Villarreal CF emerged bruised but triumphant from a wonderful UEFA Champions League match against Aalborg BK, winning 6-3 but only after a test of fire from the Danish champions.
The second-half power-play, led by substitute Joseba Llorente's hat-trick, will not erase a thrilling counterattack display by the Danish side who nevertheless left empty handed. Two headers and a clever chip from Marek Saganowski, Thomas Enevoldsen and Andreas Johansson respectively first gave AaB the lead, then squared the match and finally restored late hope at 4-3. But replies from Giuseppe Rossi, Joan Capdevila, that devastating hat-trick from Llorente and a rare header from Robert Pirès completed the Villarreal fightback on a thrilling night in Group E.
A superb first half was an example of what self-belief and attacking intentions can achieve. Though the teams left the field at 2-2 the three key figures were all wearing the red-and-white stripes of AaB. Anders Due flashed up and down the right touchline like lightning and the only reason Kasper Bøgelund was not the first half's outstanding player was that Saganowski excelled him. Playing what can be a lonely role as single striker, he performed magic. Twice in the first five minutes Saganowski dropped deep to flick on and the second time Due was clean in on Diego López's goal but failed to convert.
Notice had been served and the opening goal was delivered 14 minutes later. Bøgelund surged up the pitch, slipped possession to Due and went for the return. Instead the winger played in Saganowski for a fine headed goal. One-nil should have been two moments later when López saved from Due's almost identical header but, just when the Danish champions looked to taking control, they were caught out at the back.
Overlapping full-back Ángel López crossed for Rossi to clip in off Steve Olfers and Villarreal were back in it. More reward was to follow when Capdevila struck with a soaring right-foot shot in the 33rd minute which looked to have turned the match, but the visitors were undaunted. Saganowski again dropped deep, fed Enevoldsen and his pace made the deft chip over López easier than it might have been for 2-2.
The second half was equally eventful. Rossi's 46th-minute shot brought the best from AaB goalkeeper Karim Zaza, as did a raking centre from Ángel ten minutes later. Pellegrini's demand that the midfield should press tightly around Saganowski ensured his lay-offs were tidied up and chances flowed down the Villarreal right, substitute Llorente lobbing Zaza only for Michael Jakobsen to clear off the line. Seconds later Llorente capitalised on the rebound off Zaza from Senna's 40-metre piledriver on 67 minutes and Villarreal were ahead for the second time.
Llorente struck again three minutes later from a fantastic Pirès assist yet still AaB were not finished, Johansson adding another header to make the score 4-3. Pirès himself headed the fifth on 79 minutes thanks to Cazorla's clever work before Llorente completed his hat-trick, and the scoring, with six minutes to play. AaB's goals will worry Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini, whose side had only previously conceded three in all competitions this season, as the night of champagne football ended with corks popping in the Madrigal and a sad hangover for the brave visitors.