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Villarreal CF extended their UEFA Champions League fairy tale with a 1-0 win against FC Internazionale Milano to reach the semi-finals on away goals in their first season in the tournament.
Full-back Rodolfo Arruabarrena headed the crucial second-half goal that was the culmination of a barnstorming display, notably from Juan Román Riquelme, Diego Forlán and Alessio Tacchinardi, during which the Italian team came under constant pressure. Now Villarreal will meet either Arsenal FC or Juventus for a place in the final.
The early part of the match had been a template of the performance that Villarreal needed and that coach Manuel Pellegrini had demanded. They were confident, unhurried and purposeful in possession, and the Inter players who had been ordered by Roberto Mancini to attack, were instead forced to hustle and defend.
The loss of Gonzalo Rodríguez, Villarreal's exceptional young centre-half, to an ankle problem had suggested the home side might relax their steely defensive style. In the event, Inter rarely made it out of their own half with any real purpose in the first 45 minutes and Villarreal's creative players, Juan Pablo Sorín, Forlán and Riquelme, saw plenty of the ball.
In fact, within the first half-hour, Villarrreal had created three presentable chances. Before the third minute had passed it took an absolutely exceptional penalty-box block from Marco Materazzi to prevent Riquelme volleying in the opening goal. With the hosts' 4-3-1-2 formation protecting their defence, Tacchinardi was the outstanding midfield presence, allowing Riquelme his most commanding 45 minutes in the UEFA Champions League this season.
Villarreal's second opportunity came as Sorín raced on to a chance inside the area from which he might well have scored had he not tumbled too easily under the challenge of Materazzi in the 28th minute. Then, almost immediately, Arruabarrena had a clear header at the back post which he delivered into the chest and arms of Francesco Toldo.
To Inter's credit, their defence never once descended into either cynical blocking or foul play and their work rate and concentration were of the highest order. Yet their own dangerous players, particularly Adriano and Alvaro Recoba, were starved of possession as their team-mates fought to stave off wave after wave of Villarreal attacks.
The break arrived with Tacchinardi spurning one more invitation to put Villarreal ahead on aggregate when his 44th-minute header went over the bar when he had time and space to at least test Toldo.
If anything, Villarreal doubled their efforts and their efficacy in the second half. Marcos Senna crashed a drive straight at Toldo, and the keeper then had to save outstandingly well from José María Romero's chip to the top right-hand corner of his goal. Between those moments Riquelme drew a block from the Inter custodian, and the sense that a goal was inevitable was proved correct with just over 30 minutes remaining.
Riquelme, the game's star performer, surged forward and was fouled by Luís Figo. From the free-kick the Argentinian lofted the ball so as to meet Arruabarrena's left-to-right run across the box, and the man who had scored in the last round to eliminate Rangers FC headed home to move Villarreal towards the semi-finals.
Only minutes later, a wonderful one-two between Forlán and José Mari allowed the ESM Golden Shoe holder to bring out Toldo's best stop of the night, the latter diving to his left to turn the shot around the post. That might have kept the scores down, but Villarreal were not to be denied on a magic night at El Madrigal.
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