Lehmann ends Villarreal voyage

There was last-four heartbreak for Villarreal CF as Arsenal FC displayed a new-found killer instinct to reach their first UEFA Champions League final.

In the end the Gunners sank the Yellow Submarine. But as the colourful Spanish vessel went down, it did so with dignity and the kind of lung-busting effort which the nautical life has always demanded.

Arsenal sympathy
Poor old Villarreal CF launched torpedo after torpedo at their opponents but just could not hit the target. Not even when presented with the sitting duck opportunity of a late spot-kick. Even dyed-in-the wool Arsenal FC supporters, whose joy was unconfined, could not help but feel a little sympathy for the distraught Diego Forlán and the wonderfully creative Juan Román Riquelme.

Static Riquelme
The Argentinian seemed to turn to stone as Jens Lehmann threw every inch of his massive frame to his left and saved a penalty that would have kept the UEFA Champions League novices - the club that has won so many hearts - alive in the tie. As the ball bounced back into the danger zone, and a pack of players rushed in to deal with the rebound, Riquelme just stood and watched in utter astonishment while it looped past him.

Klinsmann vindicated
On such moments do great tournaments turn and somewhere in sunny California, where Germany's national coach Jürgen Klinsmann lives, there might have been a small sigh of satisfaction at the influence of the man who has just been elevated above Oliver Kahn for the position of FIFA World Cup goalkeeper. The contribution that the sometimes controversial custodian made to this tie also elevates him to any reasonable judge's man of the match.

Vital save
He provided a crucial save earlier in the game when Guillermo Franco's attempted header skidded off his shoulder at an angle that would have surprised many keepers. Not Lehmann. He stayed 'big', as goalkeeping coaches in England like to call it, and because he did not dive it was his right foot that kept Arsenal in control. Franco had left the field in tears two rounds ago, his first-ever UEFA Champions League appearance ending in an aggregate victory against Rangers FC, but here he was weeping with sorrow. His eyes were red by the time he dragged himself down the tunnel at the end of the 0-0 draw.

Killer instinct
There lies the irony for Villarreal and any of the Premiership clubs who might be feeling envious of Arsenal's maiden UEFA Champions League final in Paris next month. Arsène Wenger's Highbury reign has produced one of the most skilful, flowing and daring teams in recent English history. Their only real flaw has been an inability to kill off crucial European encounters. No longer.

Lehmann feat
The Gunners now find themselves facing either AC Milan or FC Barcelona for a truly momentous prize, and the chance to become their country's second consecutive champion of Europe, having registered three consecutive 0-0 draws in the second legs of their knockout ties. The statistics also show that Lehmann has not been beaten for over nine games, but when you add flesh to the bones by recalling that their 1-0, 2-0 and 1-0 aggregate wins have come against Real Madrid CF, Juventus and now Villarreal it becomes a truly remarkable achievement.

Support needed
The thousands of Arsenal fans accommodated high in the corner of El Madrigal stadium, bouncing in co-ordinated joy at the final whistle, were drowned out during the match by Villarreal's remarkable yellow-clad support. The latter could not have done more to energise their favourites. But they will be needed again this weekend. You can only suspect that poor old Forlán, guilty of missing a wonderful chance, Riquelme and Franco will spend long, late nights wondering how they did not score. The Yellow Submarine will sail again, but it will need repairs and the crew will require some tender loving care before they can erase this memory.