VILLAREAL BRUSH OFF BRUGGE
Jozy Altidore was a second half substitute for Villarreal who downed Club Brugge on Wednesday evening to claim first place in Group D of the Europa League.
New Jersey-born striker Giuseppe Rossi's double provided the offense for the Yellow Submarine who will be one of the higher seeded clubs when the tourney reconvenes in February for the first knockout round.
Juan Carlos Garrido's squad will await Friday's draw to see who their Round of 32 opponent will be.
Thirty seconds into the game, Villarreal showed that they meant business and were intent on taking all three points when they pushed forward from the kick-off and Cani got a teaser shot off from 20 yards out. His effort however sailed wide of the Brugge goal.
This was followed a couple of minutes later with Rossi being tripped on the edge of the 18 yard box. The ensuing free kick was struck with gusto by team captain Marcos Senna and Geert De Vlieger was lucky to knock it away, but right into the path of the on-rushing Joan Capdevilla. The World Cup winning defender however couldn't get the ball out from under his feet and ended up missing from a couple yards out.
The Belgians, who were playing for nothing but pride as they had already been eliminated from continuing in the competition, pushed forward themselves as Jonathan Blondell had his shot knocked away by Diego Lopez in the visitor's goal.
Brugge settled into the game as both Wilfried Dalmat and Marcos Camozzato, former teammates of Oguchi Onyewu at Standard Liege, took control of the right side of the field and played some pretty passes as they tried to penetrate the Spanish defense.
The Belgians won a throw-in deep in the Spanish area, which turned into a free kick 25 yards out after striker Ronald Vargas was brought down. Vargas' free kick was whipped into the six-yard box but Ivan Perisic fractionally missed making contact at the far post.
It was the hosts who ended up striking first after Dalmat sent a ball cross field to Vargas. The Venezuelan midfielder shot hard and true but the high-flying De Vlieger tipped the ball and sent it hard into the crossbar. In the right place at the right time was Dorge Kouemaha who sprung forward into the six yard box and drilled his header past Lopez in the 28th minute.
The home fans cheered loudly but soon thereafter a silence fell over Jan Breydel Stadium as the clock showed a half hour gone and the scoreboard was lit up again courtesy of Rossi. The Italian international graciously accepted a ball into the box and nodded it to the far post, beating his marker and the keeper to the punch.
The game became fast and furious and a minute after the equalizer it was Rossi who attempted to turn provider but his ball to Marco Ruben was struck from a tight angle that the keeper had covered.
Brugge went on the attack but the Spanish club remain unfazed just four minutes after his first goal, Rossi scored again.
A long pass found Rossi out-pacing the Brugge defense down field and the 23-year-old was brought down just as he got into the box for the penalty.
Rossi coolly stutter-stepped and buried the ball into the left hand corner of the back of the net, however the Serbian referee Milorad Mazic spotted an encroachment and insisted that it be re-taken. The ex-Manchester United man obliged and this time sent it to the right and barely got it by the diving De Vlieger to double the lead.
Rossi could have had his hat trick minutes before the half but the pass through the air wouldn't settle for him in time and stuck it quickly and without conviction.
The second half started a bit slower than the first but seven minutes in, the work-a-holic Rossi ran into the danger zone as Cazorla spotted him and slid the ball through. Although he should have taken the close range shot, he slid the ball across to Marcos Ruben who was bearing down on goal as well, but the defense did their job and cleared the danger.
Brugge had the chance to go level soon afterwards when Blondel whipped a great ball into the middle of the box practically on the penalty spot and at the feet of Perisic but the Croatian tripped over it thereby missing a chance at testing Lopez' goal keeping skills.
The 78th minute saw the arrival of Altidore onto the field as Garrido opted to replace Ruben with the US international.
Altidore got involved in the game immediately, joining Rossi in the attacks. The 21 year old forward played up the wing with a long ball but Van Gijseghem managed to get a toe to it and send it out for a throw. Again Altidore was picked out, but this time the pass was intercepted by Vargas for a corner kick.
As the clock showed just five minutes left in regulation time, Dalmat bore down on goal but was knocked off the ball by Mateo Musacchio in front of the Spanish goal. The Frenchman suggested to the referee that it should be a penalty kick but the man with the whistle disagreed.
In stoppage time, Rossi fed Valero for a close range shot but it was deflected out for a corner. Cani took the corner and played to Altidore who deftly held the ball up allowing the clock to tick away.
Following the match, the former Hull City man was pleased with how he and his teammates dug in and played a thorough 90 minutes.
"It was a tough game," Altidore told YA in Brugge after the match. "I thought we did a good job, got a little bit of a break by scoring the goal and then we got the penalty right after which really helped.They came back at us, but we continued to play well."
Wednesday night marked just the sixth match that Altidore has featured in for the Yellow Submarine, but the New Jersey native is steadfast in his belief that his hard work will eventually pay off and lead to more minutes with the club.
"I played just a bit tonight but for me, it's little by little, baby steps," he noted. "It is a work in progress . I love being here though, I love learning from these guys and really enjoy it. I'm continuing to work hard. Of course I would have liked to play more, but I just have to wait for my turn."
Altidore and Villarreal return to La Liga action this weekend when the host Mallorca.