Villarreal held by Atalanta in return to Champions League

National Sports

VILLARREAL, Spain (AP)Villarreal was frustrated by Atalanta in its return to the Champions League after a 10-year absence, being held to a 2-2 draw at the start of the group stage on Tuesday.

The Europa League champions rallied to take the lead in the second half but conceded late to fall short of an opening home win. Villarreal had won its last six home games in European competitions.

Robin Gosens equalized in the 83rd minute after Remo Freuler had put the visitors ahead six minutes into the match at La Ceramica Stadium in southeastern Spain. Villarreal got on the board with Manu Trigueros before halftime and went ahead with a goal from Arnaut ”Danjuma” Groeneveld in the second half.

In the other Group F match, Young Boys stunned Manchester United by scoring in stoppage time in a 2-1 come-from-behind victory in Switzerland. Villarreal next visits Manchester United, while Atalanta hosts Young Boys.

”We leave with a bittersweet taste because we wanted the win in front of our fans, but we are satisfied with the attitude of the squad,” Villarreal midfielder Dani Parejo said. ”We struggled in the beginning of the match but we regained control and got the lead before everything changed in one minute as they equalized and we lost a player with a red card.”

Villarreal played the final minutes with 10 men as Francis Coquelin was shown a second yellow card for a foul in the 84th, just after Atalanta scored its second goal.

Villarreal is playing in the Champions League for the fourth time, but the first since the 2011-12 season. It made it back by defeating Manchester United in the Europa League final last season. The ”Yellow Submarine” was a semifinalist in the Champions League in 2006 and reached the last eight three years later, being eliminated by Arsenal both times.

Atalanta is making its third consecutive appearance and is looking to repeat the success of its first two campaigns when it reached the knockout stages. It was a surprise quarterfinalist in its debut two seasons ago.

Atalanta was in control at the start and Freuler opened the scoring with a low shot from inside the area, with the ball hitting the far post before finding the net on the opposite side.

Unai Emery’s Villarreal – still winless after four matches this season – improved toward the end of the first half and Trigueros equalized from close range in the 39th after a cross by Alfonso Pedraza.

The Spanish team nearly added to the lead a few minutes later but Gerard Moreno’s header was brilliantly saved by Atalanta goalkeeper Juan Musso. Moreno also missed in front of the goal in the 67th with only Musso to beat. Musso further stopped Moreno’s close-range header off a corner in the final minute of second-half stoppage time, deflecting it with his knee.

”I am happy to help the team,” said Musso, who was making his Champions League debut. ”Today I managed to save what I had to save. We had a tough opponent, a top-level team, and we’re happy to come home with a point.”

Danjuma got the go-ahead goal from inside the area in the 73rd after Freuler lost possession near the area, with Dani Parejo – back from an injury sustained before the international break – and Moreno assisting on the build-up.

Atalanta sent several players to national teams in the European Championship this summer and they thrived during the competition won by Italy. No other club had more goal-scorers at Euro 2020 than Atalanta.

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