VILLARREAL, Spain (AP) – Villarreal were frustrated with Atalanta on their 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 avoid a first victory at home. Villarreal had won their last six home games in European competitions.
Robin Gosens equalized in the 83rd minute after Remo Freuler put the visitors ahead after six minutes of the game at La Ceramica stadium in south-eastern Spain. Villarreal entered the table with Manu Trigueros before half-time and took the lead with a goal from Arnaut “Danjuma” Groeneveld in the second half.
In the other Group F game, the Young Boys stunned Manchester United by scoring in stoppage time in a 2-1 win from behind in Switzerland. Villarreal will next travel to Manchester United, while Atalanta host Young Boys.
“We are leaving with a bittersweet taste because we wanted the victory in front of our fans, but we are happy with the attitude of the team,” said Villarreal midfielder Dani Parejo. “We struggled at the start of the game, but we regained control and took the lead before everything changed in a minute when they equalized and we lost a player with a red card.”
Villarreal played the final minutes with 10 men as Francis Coquelin got a second yellow card for a foul in the 84th, just after Atalanta scored their second goal.
Villarreal is entering the Champions League for the fourth time, but the first since the 2011-12 season. He returned by beating Manchester United in the Europa League final last season. The “Yellow Sub” was a Champions League semi-finalist in 2006 and reached the final eight three years later, being knocked out by Arsenal each time.
Atalanta are making their third consecutive appearance and are looking to repeat the success of their first two campaigns when they reached the knockout stages. He was a surprise quarter-finalist in his debut two seasons ago.
Atalanta were in control at the start and Freuler opened the scoring with a low shot from inside the box, the ball hitting the far post before finding the net on the opposite side.
Unai Emery’s Villarreal – still winless after four appearances this season – improved towards the end of the first half and Trigueros equalized at close range in the 39th after a cross from Alfonso Pedraza.
The Spanish side almost took the lead a few minutes later but Gerard Moreno’s header was brilliantly saved by Atalanta goalkeeper Juan Musso. Moreno also missed the goal in the 67th with only Musso to beat. Musso again stopped Moreno’s head at close range on a corner kick in the last minute of the second half stoppage, causing him to deflect with his knee.
“I’m 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 high level team, and we are happy to come home with a point.
Danjuma got the nod from inside the zone in the 73rd after Freuler lost possession near the zone, with Dani Parejo – returning from an injury suffered before the international break – and Moreno helping with the preparation .
Atalanta sent several players to the national teams for the European Championship this summer and they thrived in the competition won by Italy. No other club had more scorers at Euro 2020 than Atalanta.
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