In incessant rain and despite chances aplenty, it took Villarreal CF until 18 minutes from time to shake off determined opponents in PFC Levski Sofia for a 1-0 win in their Group G opener.
Nilmar added to a wonderful hat-trick for Brazil against Chile last week with the crucial strike after inventive wide play by substitute Giuseppe Rossi. Home coach Ernesto Valverde will most likely reflect on the UEFA Europa League match wondering how his team wasted so many opportunities and with newfound respect for the organisation of the Bulgarian champions who could lay claim to having had the better openings.
A first half dominated by Villarreal ended with three glaring opportunities for the visitors. Brazilian winger Joãozinho skipped away from Gonzalo in the 43rd minute and cut back to Lachezar Baltanov, who had an eternity to pick his spot from ten metres. Iván Marcano's lunge deflected the effort over but failed to extinguish the danger. Chakib Benzoukane was unmarked from the ensuing corner but steered his close-range header narrowly wide. To cap Bulgarian frustration the half ended with a clever flick and turn from Georgi Hristov which was unduly rewarded by a tame shot into the gloves of Diego López.
Ernesto Valverde introduced Ariel Ibagaza for Bruno Soriano to immediate effect in the 55th minute. The Argentine released Jonathan Pereira who rounded Petkov, lost control of the ball and watched it skid off the post. A Robert Pirès free-kick had already tested the Bulgarian keeper and Cani increased the pressure minutes after Pereira's miss but Petkov capably punched clear. Sebastián Eguren was even more culpable just past the hour when Pirès squared across goal only for his midfield colleague to somehow scoop his boot under the ball. But it was Nilmar who had the last word.