By Alex O'Henley at Celtic Park
Villarreal CF secured an impressive draw at Celtic FC to keep alive their dreams of adding to their UEFA Intertoto Cup victory with a UEFA Cup triumph.
A first-half headed goal by Josico had even given the visitors the lead, and although Henrik Larsson equalised for Celtic midway through the second half, the Spanish side held on to give themselves the psychological edge going into next Wednesday's second leg.
Both sides showed changes from their league games at the weekend. Neil Lennon and Stilian Petrov came back into the Celtic midfield, while Josico and Javier Venta started for Villarreal, the latter replacing Pedro Marti on the right side of defence.
The Primera División outfit knew they would face early pressure against a Celtic team who had not lost at home since August 2001 and within a minute they could have fallen behind. Sergio Ballesteros misjudged a long ball from Stanislav Varga allowing Larsson a clear run at goal, but for once the Swedish striker's control let him down.
Having weathered the predicted early storm, Villarreal promptly opened the scoring with their first serious attack. A corner from Juan Riquelme was cleared only as far as Roger García on the left-hand side and his deep cross eluded the Celtic defenders, allowing Josico to nip in and glance a header past David Marshall.
The visitors threatened again on 14 minutes. Didier Agathe conceded possession to Riquelme and his pass found Sonny Anderson running through on goal, but the Brazilian's shot drifted beyond the post.
Villarreal's goal had stunned the home crowd but Celtic soon pressed for an equaliser, which almost came on 30 minutes. A good passing movement found Petrov racing into the box and his right-foot shot looked to be going in until José Reina intervened to divert it to safety via his near post.
Visitors go close
Villarreal were proving dangerous on the break and six minutes before half-time they could have doubled their lead. Again Riquelme was the creator, finding José Mari with a clever through-ball, but with the goal at his mercy the midfield player shot over.
There were chances at both ends within minutes of the restart. Battaglia and Anderson combined well on the edge of the penalty area and but for Bobo Balde's intervention the Brazilian would have had an easy scoring opportunity. Play then broke to the other end where Fabricio Coloccini misjudged an Alan Thompson cross; Larsson made to shoot but the Argentinian defender recovered well to block his drive.
Celtic looked to have equalised minutes later when Rodolfo Arruabarrena passed back to Reina only for the goalkeeper's clearance to hit Larsson and loop into the goal. However, the ball had struck Larsson's arm and the goal was ruled out. But by this stage the pressure from the home side was incessant and Larsson deservedly equalised on 64 minutes. Stephen Pearson fed Agathe wide on the right and Larsson climbed highest to head his cross into the net.
Visitors hold on
Celtic now pushed on looking for a winner and within minutes of putting his side on level terms Larsson passed up a great opportunity for his second after fine work from Pearson. Agathe then almost stole it for Celtic with seven minutes left but Reina did well to turn his shot wide for a corner to leave Villarreal in a strong position in the tie - but the Glasgow side's proud home record intact.
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