Report: Villarreal 1 United 1 (11-10 on penalties)
Manchester United suffered Europa League heartache in Gdansk as we lost out in an agonising marathon penalty shoot-out against Villarreal.
The final ended 1-1 after extra time in rain-soaked Poland. But there was to be no repeat of Moscow 2008 when it was goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar who was the hero in the Champions League.
Sadly on this big Euro occasion it was our no.1 David De Gea who missed the critical last penalty of a dramatic 22 penalty-kick lottery and silverware escaped the Reds.
Villarreal had taken the lead in Poland in the first half with a goal from their top hitman Gerard Moreno in the 29th minute. But United found our feet in the second half and equalised through Edinson Cavani in the 55th minute.
Typically Villarreal, under Unai Emery, dug in and United struggled with energy and invention late on as the showpiece in Gdansk became a tense and tired affair and went to extra time and then the extraordinary nail-bitting penalty shoot-out.
There were 21 successful virtually unstoppable spot-kicks before the defining moment when De Gea stepped up in the rain and had his penalty saved by his opposite number Rulli and United’s dream was devastatingly shattered.
Heartbreak in Gdansk gallery
After a lengthy penalty shootout, the Europa League final ends in defeat for United.
FIRST HALF - VILLARREAL TAKE THE LEAD
In keeping with Solskjaer’s attacking selection United began on the front foot against a Unai Emery side noted for caution rather than adventure.
Scott McTominay will have been disappointed that the first attempt on goal for the Reds after seven minutes from such a normally clean striker of the ball was dragged well wide.
The game was held up early on while Villarreal’s Foyth needed treatment for a bloodied nose as he was accidentally caught by Paul Pogba.
Considering the Spaniards seemed so reluctant to take the ball forward in possession they were still enjoying the highest number in the corner count.
United, meanwhile, were enjoying plenty of possession and Luke Shaw was desperate to see a connection from one of the Reds’ attackers after 20 minutes when the left-back drilled in a ferocious cross-cum-shot. Sadly nobody got a touch on it.
Torres headed over for Villarreal after 23 minutes and immediately after an inviting Mason Greenwood high delivery to Edinson Cavani was unusually mis-controlled in a threatening position by the Uruguayan.
United had disappointingly gone from dangerous and in attacking mode to an outfit increasingly looking a little uneasy. Villarreal made that most of that to take the lead in the 29th minute.
A free-kick from Parejo was slung into the Reds area and Villarreal’s leading scorer - Gerard Moreno - only bettered in La Liga by Lionel Messi, outfoxed all United’s defenders in close proximity with his movement and struck home with his right boot beyond David De Gea to register his 30th goal of his campaign.
United did improve in the latter half of the first 45 minutes, but Villarreal’s notorious mean defending kept us away from an alleged suspect Argentinian goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli.
Greenwood made an encouraging and dangerous driving run in the closing seconds of the half, but it was a yellow shirt that was able to get contact on it as it dropped into the arms of Rulli.
SECOND HALF - HEARTBREAK FOR REDS
There was a glimmer of hope for an early breakthrough after 52 minutes when there was a VAR check for a potential foul on Greenwood in the area. It was a quick decision though and referee Clement Turpin quickly indicated there was no spot-kick.
However, there was VAR joy for the Reds soon after as the equaliser came. McTominay’s devilment won United a corner and though Villarreal cleared Shaw’s delivery it was powered back in by Rashford and Cavani struck.
A longer VAR check was a-holding-the-breath-moment for United and the 2,000 Reds fans in the stadium. But cheers of relief and joy erupted from our support in Poland when the ref confirmed Cavani wasn’t offside.
Villarreal’s stubborn streak, that had seen them keep 20 clean sheets this season in all competitions, had been breached and United sensed more blood.
Rashford would have been delighted that an offside was raised in the 70th-minute against Fernandes after the striker messed up a golden chance to convert the midfielder’s cross.
Goalscorer Cavani came close again when he headed a Shaw cross against a defender. United were on top and De Gea had nothing to do against a Spanish side who were pegged back and hanging on.
Emery ditched his caution and made two positive substitutions in the 76th-minute, but it was still the Reds who were looking the side most likely to snatch a winner. As Solskjaer kept his subs on the bench, Emery brought his tally to five changes late on.
Just as in ’99 the fourth official’s board went up to indicate three minutes left of the final, but nobody in red could come up with a Solskjaer fairytale moment in added time.
EXTRA TIME - THE FINAL ENDS IN STALEMATE
United looked visibly shattered against a fresher-legged Spanish side who had five new faces in their XI via the bench.
The manager resisted changes until the 100th minute. With Villarreal on top the boss brought Fred on for Greenwood. But it was a worrying opening half to the extra period with United looking spent. Villarreal, fortunately, were unable to expose the leggy Reds as the final dragged on into a further 15 minutes.
There was a worry for Fred when the ball struck his hand in the box but a VAR check ruled no penalty.
Axel Tuanzebe came on for Bailly in the 115th-minute and Daniel James replaced Pogba. But there was no magic left in anyone’s boots and no hero in extra time. Seconds from the end of added time there was the penalty-takers tactical switch with Juan Mata and Alex Telles coming on for the shoot-out for McTomnay and Wan-Bissaka.
Then came that incredible finale and huge agony and disappointment.
United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka (Telles 120), Bailly (Tuanzebe 115), Lindelof, Shaw, McTominay (Mata 120), Pogba (James 115), Greenwood (Fred 100), Fernandes (c), Rashford, Cavani.
Subs not used: Grant, Henderson, Maguire, Williams, Amad, Matic, van de Beek.
Goals: Cavani (55)
Villarreal: Rulli; Foyth ( Gaspar 87), Albiol (c), Torres, Pedraza (A Moreno 87); Yeremi Pino (Alcacer 76), Capoue (raba 120), Parejo, Trigueros (Moi Gomez, 76); G. Moreno, Bacca (Coquelin 59).
Subs not used: Asenjo, Funes Mori, Estupinan, Pena, Jaume Costa, Nino.
Goals: G. Moreno (29)
Bookings: Capoue, Foyth