Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli made the difference in an astonishing 11-10 penalty shoot-out victory in the Europa League final against Manchester United on Wednesday as the Yellow Submarine claimed their first-ever major honour.
An attritional game ended 1-1 in the rain of Gdansk with neither side deserving to win in regulation and after 20 converted spot-kicks from outfield players it was left to the keepers to settle matters.
Rulli smashed an unstoppable kick high to the left of David de Gea and then saved the weak shot of his opposite number to make history for Villarreal and coach Unai Emery, who has now lifted the Europa League a record four times.
“It feels really good. It’s been a tough competition, we knew it was going to be very tough against a very good side like Manchester United,” said Villarreal midfielder Francis Coquelin.
“When you go down to the end, the winner takes it all; Manchester United put us under a lot of pressure and we had to dig in to get the result.
“The penalty shoot-out is always a lottery, and we’re really pleased to have won it. We’ll try to celebrate because it’s something massive for the club and for all of us.”
United’s own trophy drought will enter a fifth year following another near miss for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and also means Manchester cannot join Milan as the only city to win two major European tournaments in a season; Manchester City play Chelsea in Saturday’s Champions League final.
“It’s a disappointed dressing room,” Solskjaer told BT Sport. “That’s football for you – sometimes it’s decided on one kick.
“We’ve got to learn from that, not savour this feeling but taste this feeling and make sure we don’t get it again.”
The La Liga side – who also now enter the Champions League group phase next term – opened the scoring when Gerard Moreno touched in Dani Parejo’s 30th minute free kick but United levelled when Edinson Cavani converted a ricochet 10 minutes after the restart to take an attritional game almost as far as possible.
United had made the better start without creating anything of note and fell behind when Moreno evaded Victor Lindelof to score. Defender Harry Maguire was an unused substitute having lost his battle for fitness and will rue the gap left in his absence.
A much improved United equalized soon after the restart though were fortunate as Marcus Rashford’s shot took not one but two deflections to land for Cavani, who couldn’t miss with Rulli helpless.
A Cavani header, blocked by reported United target Pau Torres, was as close as either side came to a winner in normal time though Rashford missed an open goal when offside.
Torres swept wide with almost the last kick of the regulation 90 minutes and neither side risked losing to potentially gain victory in the additional period.
This was the first Europa League final to go to extra-time since Emery’s Sevilla went on to beat Benfica on penalties in 2014 and history repeated itself – though only after an epic shoot-out.
That will not bother the Villarreal fans who travelled to Poland to be part of the reduced capacity crowd amid the coronavirus as their club ended a 98-year wait for a trophy in the most dramatic fashion possible.