Tough Night for Hajduk as Villarreal Dominate in Conference League Play-off First Leg

Daniela Rogulj

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Villarreal and Hajduk met on Thursday in Valencia, Spain, for a spot in the Conference League group stage. 

Hajduk has been waiting 12 years for a spot in the group stage of a European competition. Tonight, they met last year’s Champions League semi-finalist and Europa League champions the season before that, knocking out Dinamo Zagreb on their way to the title.

Villarreal had not seen defeat in their last ten games and recorded victories against Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, and Inter. Villarreal is led by Unai Emery, who managed Sevilla, PSG, and Arsenal before Villarreal. 

“Hajduk Split is a big name; it has a history, and it commands maximum respect and admiration. I know that. Kalinić, Simić, and Livaja, are players who have an international reputation and are recognized around the world. It is important for us to win. I talk about Hajduk to my players with great respect,” Emery said before the game.

According to estimates, over a thousand Hajduk fans arrived in Valencia for Thursday night’s match. 


Villarreal (4-4-2): Reina – De la Fuente, Mandi, Pau Torres, Pedraza – Chukwueze, Parejo, Capoue, Baena – Morales, Jackson

Hajduk(3-5-2): Kalinić – Elez, Borevković, Awaziem – Mikanović, Grgić, Krovinović, Sahiti, Melnjak – Biuk, Livaja

Match report

Villarreal had their first chance of the match already in the 2nd minute, but Chukuweze shot wide of the goal.

Not even a minute later, Hajduk countered and shocked Villarreal. Livaja found Stipe Biuk, who ran into the penalty area at the perfect time to put the ball into the back of the net for 0:1 Hajduk! 

Melnjak and Livaja played a one-two in the 7th minute, which saw Melnjak get a shot off, but it was saved by the Villarreal keeper Reina.

A dangerous situation in front of Kalinić’s goal in the 10th minute, but Mikanović calmly played it out for a Villarreal corner.

Livaja was shown a yellow card in the 13th minute, which is his second in this play-off. 

Villarreal equalized in the 15th minute. Morales shot from 10 meters, checked Kalinic, and scored for 1:1. 

Three minutes later, it was 2:1 for Villarreal off of a Livaja own goal. 

A corner for Villarreal in the 22nd minute was cleared by the Hajduk defense.

Villarreal took control of the game and dangerously attacked Hajduk’s half. Hajduk struggled to get possession of the ball.

Hajduk had a corner in the 28th minute. The play ended in Krovinovic crossing to Melnjak in the box, who played the keeper. Hajduk countered in the next minute and Krovinovic shot from 20 or so meters out after seeing Livaja was offside. Another shot went to Reina.

“Hajduceeee” was all you could hear from the Spanish stadium. The commentators said that “Villarreal may be dominating the game, but Torcida is dominating the stands.”

Chukuweze tried finding Morales’ head in the 34th minute, but his attempt went over the goal. Two minutes later, Hajduk’s shaky defense allowed too much space for yet another goal. Morales scored 3:1 in the 36th minute. 

Mikanović tackled Morales on the edge of the penalty area in the 41st minute for a Villarreal free kick which went out for Hajduk’s ball. 

Villarreal was just too good for Hajduk in the first half and totally controlled the game. Hajduk struggled to hold onto the ball and relied on quick counters to attack. 

A free kick was awarded for Hajduk in the 44th minute, which went off Villarreal for a Hajduk corner. One minute of stoppage time was added to the end of the half. Villarreal capitalized on a quick counter. Moreno found himself 1-on-1 with Kalinic to score for 4:1. 

The second half began without any changes. 

Hajduk held possession in the first few minutes, and Biuk’s diagonal shot in the 47th minute was deflected for a Hajduk corner. 

Kalinic made a brilliant save on Baena’s shot in the 54th minute. 

Hajduk’s defense continued allowing too much space for Villarreal. 

Biuk again dribbled into the box and won a corner for Hajduk in the 60th minute. 

Pau Torres and Lo Celso entered for Pedraza and Moreno in the 62nd minute. 

Villarreal was dangerous again in the next few minutes, with a corner in the 65th minute. 

Hajduk made their first subs in the 69th minute – Lovrecsics came on for Mikanović and Mlakar for Sahiti. Morales was subbed off for Jackson in the 73rd minute. 

Two more changes for Hajduk came in the 78th minute – Fossati and Nikola Kalinic entered the match for Elez and Livaja.  

The result didn’t matter – Torcida was still the loudest in the stadium. 

A minute after Kalinic was subbed on, he entered a nasty tackle with Mandi, resulting in what looked like a split-open cheek. The Hajduk player was covered in blood, and Atanasov was subbed on. Hajduk was awarded a penalty which Fossati scored for 4:2 Hajduk in the 85th minute. 

A free kick was awarded to Hajduk two minutes later, which went out for a corner. Hajduk had a few minutes left to get another goal and not concede one, which would be huge going into the match next week in Split. 

Krovinovic struck the near post with his left foot in the 89th minute. 

The ref added four minutes of stoppage time to the match. Neither team was able to score.

The return match will be played on Thursday, August 25, at a sold-out Poljud Stadium. 

Post-match comments

“The next game should be easier to prepare for. Players can only improve by playing games like this. It started great for us, but we were naive, and we could have reacted much better. I would have preferred that they didn’t score goals like that. We will have to be better in Croatia,” said Hajduk coach Dambrauskas.

“We wanted to have better coverage in the midfield because Villarreal is integrated into the middle and in the space. Awaziem is a very calm player with the ball. I think he played a pretty good game,” said the Hajduk coach.

“You won’t believe what I’m going to tell you, but when you watch the next game, the atmosphere will be completely different, and our mentality will be different. With God’s help, anything can happen. We will focus on the next game, analyze the opponents and try to win.”

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