VILLARREAL, Spain – In the corner of the Estadio de la Céramica, one left full of mercy at the main, fans began to unfurl their scarves. On the score on their backs, the clock ticked over 90 minutes. In front of them, Villarreal are on loan in the Champions League.
Then they started singing. As Liverpool enjoyed a less stressful time after the storm on the evening, and completed the victory of their 3-2 win, other stadiums were seen to have what happened in the corner, and keep the sound. They wear their scarves, too, pointing the finger of opposition, and justice, and gratitude.
And then, when the sound was loud and it was all over, as Villareal players wreaked havoc around the stadium, head and eyes glazed over, time was running out. The scarf began to twist and whip, the mood shifting from the regret of being pulled out to the celebration of all that was left. In pain, they see pride.
Indeed, how much he suffered, perhaps, the best measure of how close Unai Emery’s Villarreal came to be. This team is not required to be in the Champions League semifinals, not really; the structure of European soccer elite competition is designed to make it disappear unlike a team of its height can walk deep into the tournament.
Villarreal never have to stand on two legs. He has, by consensus, sent to Anfield last week, his restrictions extended by the depth of Liverpool’s capital and the area of his electric power and gravity. draw from Jurgen Klopp team. The back leg is, more than anything, an impact management to eliminate, a complete list.
Villarreal, the city, is a curious place to play the game of this magnitude: the satellite of Castéllon is close by, more than anything else, quiet and beautiful and, after a day spent living into a descent, almost completely deserted. Snatches of songs, in English and Spanish, echoed around the street.
If the sense of timing that has always been associated with the most seismic sports on the European calendar is missing on the outside, it is palpable on the inside. For the first time, Villarreal set up a mosaic: a blue boat against a yellow background, the club said, Endavant, kept a large poster. The media’s public talk about faith in the return.
All unbelievers will be converted in three minutes, as Boulaye Dia tapped home by Captienne Capoue unintentionally, and Céramica like sheep. Immediately, everything feels possible. Liverpool, unbeaten and improved in a 2-0 win the previous day, struggled to win.
By halfway through, his assembly was shattered and his confidence was gone and then, only when he thought it would make him past, his results were completely lost. . Capoue crossed, on target this time. Francis Coquelin went home. Villarreal bench presses into the field, coaches and trainees and assistants who can hardly believe what they see.
Meanwhile, tied at 2-2 halves from the legs, Villarreal players stood in the distance. The end is there, there, and they can grab a place in it. Villarreal will be the smallest city, by some distance, sending a team to the biggest sport in football.
In an era set and created by Goliath, it will be this team, formed by the ropes, which made Ajax and Monaco and RB Leipzig fail and make it all. And they can do so by drawing themselves into the Champions League book detailing the visual return, a miracle calling itself, like Barcelona (2017), Roma (2018), Liverpool (2019) and Real Madrid (passim).
Reliability and reliability depend on different points of the same axis. Villarreal, in the space of 45 minutes, walked all the way along it.
And then, only when he was there, in their grip, was he removed. Klopp removed a $ 45 million forward, Diogo Jota, and introduced another, Luis Díaz. The transition force is irrevocably. Trent Alexander-Arnold hits the bar. Díaz tried to play great soccer. And then Mohamed Salah defeated Fabinho past and his shot went through Géronimo Rulli legs. That time, all.
Five minutes later, Díaz scored, drifting to the head of the cross below Rulli. Five minutes later, Sadio Mané left Liverpool ahead of the night, latching on to the pass by Alexander-Arnold, crossing over Rulli as he paid off his goal and into the middle, and then Gently roll the ball into the net.
Maybe, in hindsight, it would have been easier if Villarreal had not heard the call of action. It may be easier to be quiet, to succumb to the inevitable. That will hurt less. But then the path is not defined by location.
Villarreal beat Juventus in Turin in a match of 16. It leads Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals. And it produced the 45th minute that saw Liverpool – a team now heading into the final of the third Champions League in five years, a team looking for an unprecedented and less capable sweep. The gift – so scrambled that when Klopp asked his assistant, Peter Krawietz, to identify “an example” of good play from the first half and show it to the players for inspiration, he came back and told her that nothing would be seen.
And it has made it all of the capital that is part of its competitors, in an ecosystem where large beasts eat most of the air, and with a group patched together by discarding and abandonment. There is a basis for pride and pain: Sometimes, pain can feel like a symbol of respect.
“Football is beautiful,” Villarreal manager Raúl Albiol said. In time, he realized, what would be important was not that Villarreal lost 45 minutes short of the Champions League final, but that he came in position to lose 45 minutes short of the Champions League final.
He said, “This is a defeat,” but we will remember this challenge.