Villarreal was to hear the Champions’ League anthem again during the 2008-2009 season thanks to a spectacular La Liga campaign that saw it finish as runners-up on 77 points. This meant the Yellows avoided the preliminary knock out round going straight into the Group Phase of the competition and playing in Europe for the seventh consecutive season.
The draw placed the Submarine in Group E along with Manchester United, Aalborg, and Glasgow Celtic, a tough challenge that the Yellows rose to with distinction.
Opening match in the “Theatre of Dreams”
The Submarine’s opening took place in the world famous “Theatre of Dreams” of Old Trafford. Villarreal came away with a worthy point thanks to a goalless draw against the current champions of the competition. The visitors’ game plan and superb performance of Diego Lopez denied Manchester United the victory and in fact the Yellows had a great chance to win the clash when, after a move down the right, Angel’s precise cross was met by Guille Franco, whose back heel struck the far post. Finally both teams had to settle for a share of the spoils.
The second Group Phase saw Villarreal and Glasgow Celtic lock horns at El Madrigal. Marcos Senna was the star of the show in a match marked out by the excellent relationship that exists between the two sets of fans. A superb strike from the Hispano-Brazilian direct from a free kick was enough to see off the Scottish side and earn three points for the Yellows.
The goal scoring performance of the competition from the Yellows occurred in the third match of the Group Phase. El Madrigal was witness to a pulsating encounter between Villarreal and Danish side Aalborg that finished 6-3 in favour of the home side thanks to goals from Rossi, Capdevila, Pires and a hat trick from Joseba Llorente who earned the honour of becoming the first Yellow player to score three goals in a European match.
The second match against the Danes at Aalborg’s stadium finished in a 2-2 draw. Giuseppe Rossi put the Yellows ahead just before half time, and then Curth put the home side on terms in the second half. Guille Franco put the visitors back in front after controlling the ball on his chest, before Due’s finish direct from a free kick meant the match finished all square.
With eight points in the bank, Villarreal welcomed Manchester United to El Madrigal. In an even encounter a 0-0 draw was enough to guarantee safe passage into the knockout stages.
The last match in the group saw Villarreal visit Celtic for a match of little importance to the visitors, who went down 2-0 to finish second in the group.
Glory in the Greek cauldron
The draw for the last 16 saw Villarreal pitted against Greek side Panathinaikos. The first leg at El Madrigal finished as an unjust 1-1 draw after a match completely dominated by the home side that saw the Submarine squander numerous chances and midfielder Karagounis convert one of the few opportunities to fall to the Greek side. Rossi put the home side on terms from the spot after Pires had been fouled.
The return leg took place in the Greek cauldron with Villarreal needing to win or at least draw by more than one goal. In the most hostile of atmospheres, the visitors imposed their quality on the Greek side coming away with a 1-2 victory thanks to goals from Ibagaza and Joseba Llorente after a historic night both in Athens and Spain, where the Yellow fans enjoyed this latest triumph on their television sets.
Villarreal had to face Arsenal in the quarter-finals and once again the ‘Gunners’ were to prove the scourge of the Yellows sinking any hopes the Submarine may have had of progressing further in the competition. A superb strike from Marcos Senna from 25 metres gave the home side the lead in the first leg at El Madrigal, before a strike from Adebayor in the second half cut short the home crowd’s joy.
The second leg at the Emirates Stadium in London finished 3-0 in favour of the English side that sank the Submarine with goals from Walcott, Adebayor and Van Persie. But despite the loss, Villarreal had once again demonstrated that it could compete at the highest level in Europe.