Despite the immense satisfaction of their comeback victory over SSC Napoli there were few in the Villarreal CF camp who failed to recognise how tough their dangerous, determined Italian opponents had been.
Juan Carlos Garrido's side spent time on the ropes but fought back with spirited defiance, scoring the two goals that converted a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win on the night and on aggregate. They now face Bayer 04 Leverkusen in the round of 16.
Yet those goals, from Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi just before half-time, came against a tide of Napoli attacks that swelled after Marek Hamšík headed the visitors in front in the 18th minute. "
This was as much a display of character as a show of how much talent we have," Rossi told UEFA.com.
"In fact I think we displayed something which is a real trait of ours," added the Italian international, whose goal took him to six for the season in the UEFA Europa League. "It wasn't enough to play good football: it was about proving our character. This represents a great victory for us. We worked very hard and in the end we scored one more goal than them so we deserved to go through."
Borja Valero was the architect of both Villarreal's efforts, the culmination of an industrious evening alongside Cani and Santi Cazorla. "We planned for an entirely different match," Spanish international Borja told UEFA.com. "We wanted to come out, put them under pressure and get the first goal. All that went against us but
the great feeling isn't just going through but proving we have the strength to produce a comeback."
The tie was terrifically hard fought and exciting, adding fuel to a vibrant air at the Madrigal which Rossi is looking forward to experiencing again. "Bayer Leverkusen will provide us with another great tie next up," he said. "I know they are a good side who won very easily in this round [beating FC Metalist Kharkiv 6-0 over two legs]. They are a big name in the Europa League so we can expect another exciting, tough contest."
Napoli have a few testing assignments ahead of them too as they retrain focus on Serie A where they lie second, three points behind AC Milan, whom they meet on Monday. "We go out simply because we didn't take our chances when they were there for us," said visiting goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis, whose side twice hit the woodwork in Spain.
"The mark of a true champion, though, is reacting well so
it's vital we put this behind us, forget the disappointment and try to win a massively important game against Milan."
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