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Hat-trick scorer David Villa and strike partner Juan Mata were celebrating the "craziest" match of their careers after Valencia CF battled to a heart-stopping 4-4 draw at Werder Bremen to reach the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals.
Bremen's away-goal advantage from last week's 1-1 draw in Spain evaporated after just three minutes at the Weserstadion when Villa made a prompt start to his hat-trick. Mata also chipped in before Villa struck again as the Liga side rattled up a convincing 3-1 lead at the break, with substitute Hugo Almeida replying for the hosts.
Having battled their way to last season's UEFA Cup final, Bremen emerged after the interval determined to fight their way back into the tie and a penalty converted by Torsten Frings, coupled with a Marko Marin strike, made it 3-3 with nearly half an hour to play. Villa brought up his hat-trick with what proved to be the decisive goal of the tie, but Claudio Pizarro's header in the 84th minute certainly ensured a thrilling finale.
"It was the craziest game I've ever played in," said Villa, who reckoned that a mere eight goals failed to do justice to the match. "The scoreline's a bit short – there were that many chances to score, there should have been even more goals," he said. "It was like playing when I was a kid at school, those kinds of games where there are loads of chances and loads of goals."
Bremen had won all their home matches in the competition this season, including the play-offs, and the 28-year-old Spanish international clearly savoured his side's achievement in reaching Friday's draw. "I'm really pleased we made it, because it was a really difficult opponent and we knew they'd reached the final last year – and I'm happy about my goals."
Mata was on the same wavelength, summing up the contest as "a game of spirit, and one that it was really important to win because the first leg hadn't been so good for us. We weren't afraid, but we knew it would be a complicated game and the atmosphere was difficult to play in. It was the craziest game I've played in. We had to fight for it."
Their captain Carlos Marchena was a lot more pragmatic, highlighting the fact the away-goals rule which had been on Bremen's side at the kick-off – switched allegiances to Valencia within a few minutes and, ultimately, helped them progress. "It was a mad game," he conceded, "but in terms of the scoreline, Valencia were always in control and through to the next round. It was a very, very difficult game but as the clocked ticked down we always thought we would get through to the next round."
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