Hajduk and Villarreal met in the second leg of the Conference League play-off at a sold-out Poljud stadium on Thursday. In the first match, Villarreal won 4:2 in Valencia, meaning Hajduk needed to score three goals to have a chance.
Villarreal is one of the best European teams and was certainly the favorite to move ahead. The Spanish club is 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.
Hajduk had met Spanish clubs five times so far in European competitions but failed to move past them.
“It will be a difficult test because Villarreal likes to control the game and have possession of the ball. We have to be patient and focused for the whole 90 minutes and pay attention to small details,” Hajduk coach Valdas Dambrauskas said before the match.
“In that beautiful stadium, we expect a good atmosphere in which we will try to manage the match,” said Villarreal coach Unai Emery.
HAJDUK: Kalinić – Mikanović, Awaziem, Elez, Melnjak – Grgić, Fossati – Sahiti, Krovinović, Biuk – Livaja
VILLARREAL: Reina – Kiko, Mandi, Cuenca, Pedraza – Chukwueze, Parejo, Coquelin, Baena – Lo Celso, Nicolas
Villarreal had their first attack in the 2nd minute, which went out for a goal kick. Melnjak played a hospital ball to a Villarreal player at the top of the box. Kalinic luckily saved the shot, but Hajduk fouled in the next play. A free-kick awarded to Villarreal found the head of Baena, who went over the post.
It was a shaky first five minutes for Hajduk, who was playing nervously.
A quick counter which started from Awaziem found Sahiti on the right and went out for Hajduk’s first corner. The ball was played out by the Villarreal defense and sent back in by Sahiti, who found Livaja’s head. Marko just missed near post.
Another attack for Hajduk came in the 10th minute and Fossati managed to get a shot off which was blocked.
Another shaky instance in the Hajduk defense came a minute later and was luckily cleared by Melnjak.
Another brilliant attack by Hajduk in the 14th minute saw Livaja get a shot off which was deflected out for a corner. Krovinovic found Livaja again, whose one-touch shot went over the goal.
Sahiti dribbled through the Villarreal defense in the next play and shot at the keeper. Livaja tried lobbing the keeper from the halfway line in the 16th minute. And he hit another rocket that went just wide of the far post in the next play.
Mikanovic was shown a yellow card in the 19th minute.
Villarreal tried a quick counter in the 22nd minute but shot straight at Kalinic. Hajduk countered back and Biuk got a shot off which was deflected to Reina.
Hajduk was hungry and had another corner in the 25th minute, followed by another after that.
Villarreal started to possess the ball and tried to move into the box. Nicolas’ fancy footwork couldn’t move past Hajduk’s defense.
A Hajduk free kick in the 30th minute was played short to Biuk on the left. The young midfielder cut into the middle and fell for a foul, but the ref said to play on. Hajduk’s next attack was called offside.
A dangerous free kick for Villarreal in the 34th minute was taken in front of the corner spot. Luckily the ball went straight to Kalinic.
But just a few minutes later, Pedraza had his chance, playing around Hajduk’s defense with no one in the block. He shot far post into Kalinic’s goal for 0:1 Villarreal. Hajduk’s hope had dwindled.
A Livaja free kick in the 41st minute was taken from about 30 meters out and went just wide of the post. The first half ended 0:1 for Villarreal.
Villarreal made one sub to start the second half – Capoue went on for Coquelin. Hajduk did not make any changes.
A dangerous chance for Villarreal came in the 47th minute, which was blocked by the Hajduk defense. A standout save by Kalinic in the 51st minute stopped Villarreal from going ahead by two goals.
Another attack for Villarreal in the next minute went out for a corner. Hajduk managed to clear any dangerous plays and tried to calmly move the ball into Villarreal’s half but could not get a shot off.
In the next attack, Chukwueze’s shot slipped through Kalinic’s hands and into the goal for 0:2 Villarreal. Hajduk would now need 4 goals to bring the match to extra time.
Villarreal made substitutions in the 58th minute – Moreno came on for Jackson and Morales for Lo Celso.
Hajduk made their first subs in the 59th minute – Lovrencsics came on for Mikanovic and Mlakar for Sahiti.
Fossati was subbed off for Vukovic in the 65th minute.
Mlakar had a great chance to score a minute later but just missed the far post.
Krovinovic was fouled right on the corner of the box in the 71st minute. The same player took the free kick, which went out for a goal kick.
Hajduk had a free kick and a corner in the 75th minute without a chance for a goal.
Pau Torres came on for Pedraza and Foyth for Kiko in the 79th minute. Colina came on for Melnjak and Simic for Elez in the same minute.
There were no dangerous chances for either team in the final 10 minutes. The ref added 3 minutes of stoppage time, in which no one scored.
Hajduk has thus dropped out of the UEFA Europa Conference League.
Villarreal coach Unai Emery
“We played against a team that is good today but also has a rich past. The atmosphere created by the fans was special, and we enjoyed it. I’m sorry when a team like Hajduk is left out of the European competition. With this kind of atmosphere and fans, it deserves to be in the European competition. I have to repeat that in the first game, we made several mistakes, and now we managed to improve some things that we did in the first game at a lower level. This is Europe; we have to be concentrated and satisfied with this kind of game.”
Hajduk coach Valdas Dambrauskas
“I can’t fault the players. We were ready and better than in the first game. The difference in class between us and Villarreal is too big, especially in two games. We turn to Osijek, which for us as the final, will not be easy, but we have to focus. We showed a level we can be proud of, but we have to improve,” said Dambrauskas.
“A big thank you to the fans for their support during and after the match. It’s a big responsibility. I’m not afraid to say it, and I know it sounds like a cliché, but we really have the best fans in Europe. We really do. Someone compares us to Napoli and Marseille, but we are not even the first in Croatia, we do not play in the European League nor the Conference League, and we have such support. The players and we are very proud to have this kind of support.”
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