Yellow Submarine coach Unai Emery was visibly relieved after his side’s superb 3-2 win in Bergamo against Atalanta on Thursday night.
Villarreal only needed a draw to progress from the Champions League group stages to the round of 16. His side led 3-0 at Atalanta but faced a determined comeback as the Italian side scored twice and rattled the woodwork on three occasions. Emery confessed he was concerned that even a 3-0 lead wasn’t enough.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, the former Arsenal manager said: “You saw how difficult it is to play against Atalanta, because they are now in the elite of Italian football, play beautiful football and are in great form.
“We knew even at 3-0 that they were capable of turning it around, so we had to be fully focused.
“We have now found our own credibility in the Champions League and feel more confident going forward. It’s something to celebrate, then we’ll see what the draw holds for us in the Round of 16.”
The crucial match was originally set to be played on Wednesday night but heavy snow was the fixture pushed back by 24 hours.
“It was complicated to go to bed last night with the adrenaline pumping through our veins,” Emery said. “We realised that it didn’t matter how many goals we had, we always needed to go for more, because Atalanta can hurt you at any moment and we couldn’t stop.
“When Atalanta got it to 3-2, I really expected them to pull a rabbit out of the hat. We couldn’t be sure of anything, but we did well.
Moreno ready for any challenge
Key striker Gerard Moreno, who netted 30 goals in 46 matches for Villarreal last season was back to lead the line. A muscle injury has limited the Spain international’s minutes this season and it was from his assist that Arnaut Danjuma made it 3-0 early in the second half.
“We knew we were going to suffer, but the team went out to win from the first moment,” Moreno said post-match. “We showed it and going a goal up gave us peace of mind.
“The team played a great game in both defence and attack.
“We needed this victory to be among the 16 best in Europe.
“Our journey in the Champions League has been very good and hopefully this will help us to climb the league table. We have to make this joy last and prove that we’re a great team.”
Villarreal last 16 opponents revealed
Villarreal’s fine 3-2 win at Atlanta on Thursday sees the side qualifying for the next round.
Their possible last 16 opponents are Ajax, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Liverpool, Lille or Manchester City. The draw takes place on Monday.
Forward Gerard Moreno stated his team are a match for any opponent they face.
He said: “If we’re playing well, at our highest level, we can beat anyone.”
Villarreal host Rayo Vallecano on Sunday in La Liga. Despite their exploits in Europe, Emery’s side sit 13th in La Liga with just three wins in 15 matches.