By Andy Hall
Villarreal CF will meet AZ Alkmaar in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup after goals from José Mari Romero and Juan Román Riquelme helped Spain's sole surviving representatives in UEFA competition to a 2-0 win against FC Steaua Bucuresti at the Madrigal.
Despite the final score, the Romanian visitors pressed from the start and took just two minutes to threaten following a free-kick, Nicolae Dica rising above the Villarreal defence only to head just over. However, it was the Spanish side that opened the scoring in the fifth minute, José Mari arriving to meet Riquelme's corner with a delicate header that went through the legs of Steaua goalkeeper Vasili Khomutovski.
The visitors responded in spirited fashion and could have levelled immediately when Daniel Oprita was left clean through as early nerves started to show in the home side's defence, but the striker failed to take his chance. Any signs of tension soon waned, however, and Villarreal pressed for a second goal whilst keeping the visitors at bay with an effective offside trap. José Mari and Luciano Figueroa posed a constant worry to the Steaua defence while Riquelme, who missed the first leg on Wednesday through suspension, was in fine form.
Steaua stepped up a gear during the second half and went in search of a crucial away goal but Villarreal stood firm. Coach Manuel Luis Pellegrini replaced the injured Juan Sorín with Santiago Cazorla shortly after the interval and the Spanish Under-21 international instantly made his presence felt. A minute past the hour, Petre Marin was forced to bring down the midfield player inside the area, which left referee Wolfgang Tark no option but to point to the spot.
Riquelme duly beat Khomutovski from the spot, but the kick was ordered to be retaken. However, the Argentinian forward made no mistake at the second attempt, shooting down the centre of the goal to put his team within touching distance of a place in the last eight. Steaua coach Walter Zenga brought on reinforcements but to little avail as the visitors looked increasingly disheartened during the final minutes. Villarreal held on to win the match and keep yet another clean sheet at home – the UEFA Intertoto Cup winners' 19th in succession in European competition.