A second-half strike from substitute Antonio Guayre earned UEFA Champions League debutants Villarreal CF victory against LOSC Lille Métropole and a place in the knockout stage as Group D winners.
Guayre raced clear 23 minutes from time and finished coolly for what was Villarreal's third goal in six matches in the section, allowing the Spanish side to hold off second-placed SL Benfica to reach the last 16. In a thrilling game, the French visitors - who qualify for the UEFA Cup - made numerous chances, the best of which was saved superbly by Villarreal goalkeeper Sebastián Viera from substitute Kevin Mirallas.
The drama had started enjoyably early when loose play in midfield allowed Stéphane Dumont to hit a firm, well-placed drive which flashed past Viera's right-hand post. Lille were pressing and harrying intelligently, with visiting coach Claude Puel having clearly instructed his players to make comfortable possession of the ball as difficult as possible for Villarreal. Nevertheless, the returning Diego Forlán, fit after missing five matches, took only four minutes to latch on to a Josico pass and bend a drive of his own narrowly wide.
Despite Lille fielding a younger team, there was a fascinating similarity between Villarreal and their opponents. Lille's two defensive pivots, Mathieu Bodmer and Dumont, worked hard and released the ball with efficiency, and from that point the attacking line of three deployed behind sole striker Peter Odemwingie brought tremendous pace and width to their breakaways.
Play was halted by a number of collisions in the opening period, which led to head injuries for Rodolfo Arruabarrena and Stephan Lichtsteiner, time off the pitch for Marcos Senna and an early departure for Juan Pablo Sorín following a firm tackle from Matthieu Chalmé. The home side coped better with the interruptions but as their attacks broke down, the connection between Jean Makoun and Odemwingie carried increasing threat.
The two African players created the latter's 24th-minute burst into the box but Juan Manuel Peña's interception prevented a goal. Then, a minute before half-time, Cameroonian midfielder Makoun again released his Nigerian team-mate but despite having a clear sight of goal the shot rose too high. The same fault stopped substitute Héctor Font converting Juan Román Riquelme's pass moments later.
Villarreal raised the tempo dramatically as the second half unfolded. Increasing pressure resulted in Forlán's vicious left-footed cross being cleared off the line by Grégory Tafforeau, denying José María Romero an easy tap-in. Riquelme's ensuing corner caused Lille problems at the near post but with Gonzalo Rodríguez lurking with intent, Lille goalkeeper Tony Sylva threw himself bravely on the loose ball.
Substitution pays off
Just as the match looked as if it might end in the group's sixth goalless draw, Villarreal struck. Both teams had made attacking changes with Milenko Ačimovič replacing Geoffrey Dernis and José Mari making way for Guayre. It was Villarreal's tinkering that proved the more effective, however. Font spotted Guayre's run inside Lille full-back Tafforeau and played a perfectly-weighted pass which enabled Guayre to dance round Sylva and slot into an empty net.
Needing to score to stay in the competition, Lille poured forward and seconds after his introduction, 18-year-old Mirallas had a golden opportunity to level but directed Tafforeau's low centre straight at Viera on the half-volley. Dumont then hit the woodwork with an 81st-minute volley, and the home side maintained their composure in the final minutes to clinch progress, while Lille had to settle for a place in the UEFA Cup Round of 32.