Villarreal CF made a solid debut in the UEFA Champions League by holding their vastly more experienced Group D rivals Manchester United FC to an entertaining, but goalless, draw.
The home team could even have taken all three points against opponents who played the last 26 minutes with ten men following the dismissal of Wayne Rooney for two yellow cards in quick succession. Villarreal pressed the visitors back for much of the final 20 minutes, but eventually had to settle for a stalemate.
Riquelme ruled out
Villarreal coach Manuel Luis Pellegrini chose not to gamble on Juan Román Riquelme's ankle ligament strain, instead opting for Héctor Font on the right of midfield and the Spaniard took to the task with relish, causing the visitors difficulties in and around Edwin van der Sar's penalty area throughout the first period. United, meanwhile, opted to play with only three in midfield - Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher and Alan Smith – plus three forwards. Inevitably the game was extremely open as a result and kept the capacity crowd enthused throughout.
However, Sir Alex Ferguson's side showed their experience and while Villarreal pushed forward consistently, it was United who looked more likely to score first in the early exchanges. An eleventh-minute deflection off Marcos Senna's boot left the ball tantalisingly in the path of Cristiano Ronaldo, restored to the team after a family bereavement, but Mario Sebastián Viera rushed out to smother. The Uruguayan goalkeeper then produced a fine diving save to keep out Mikaël Silvestre's downward header from Scholes's corner.
Ten minutes later United had to make their first change when Gabriel Heinze, who had been carrying an ankle injury, collided with Jan Kromkamp. Kieran Richardson replaced him and instantly created danger, winning a free-kick from Gonzalo Rodríguez. Viera failed to gather the ensuing set-piece and, with the keeper helpless, Ruud van Nistelrooij looked certain to register – only for Gonzalo to clear centimetres in front of an unguarded net with an acrobatic overhead kick.
If United could count themselves unlucky on that occasion, Van der Sar had already been forced into a world-class stop to keep the scores blank. Antonio Guayre's run and clever cross was ingeniously flicked on by Juan Pablo Sorín's heel and Rodolfo Arruabarrena's firm volley looked destined for the back of the net, only for the Dutch international to spring across his goal and prevent his team falling behind.
Against his former club, Villarreal striker Diego Forlán was starved of clear chances but from Sorín's 50th-minute pass he curved a right-footed effort narrowly wide. Then the engaging duel between Viera and Van Nistelrooij had its second episode when, from Ronaldo's header, the Dutchman swivelled and shot from four metres out but the custodian again blocked superbly.
Rooney sees red
The match was becoming increasingly fractious, with a flurry of fouls and yellow cards breaking up the play. The period culminated in the dismissal of Rooney four minutes past the hour. The English international was shown a yellow card for fouling Quique Álvarez and reacted by sarcastically applauding the referee's decision, which brought a second booking.
The home side strove to make the numerical advantage count in the closing stages and came closest when Senna's free-kick was deflected against his own crossbar by Rio Ferdinand. Although they were unable to fashion a breakthrough, Villarreal still have every reason to be satisfied with their night's work.