ZAGREB (Reuters) – Villarreal took a big step towards reaching the Europa League last four after a 44th-minute penalty from forward Gerard Moreno gave them a 1-0 win at Dinamo Zagreb in their quarter-final first leg on Thursday.
The Spanish side will head into the return leg as favourites and should they advance, they will face either Arsenal or Slavia Prague for a berth in the May 26 final in Gdansk.
Villarreal coach Unai Emery, who won three successive Europa League titles with Sevilla, praised his side’s clinical performance.
“It was a tough game against a side full of talent who has just knocked Spurs out,” he said.
“We played a good game, adjusting ourselves up top and not allowing ourselves to be exposed on the counter, either. We need to be prudent – it’s just 90 minutes that we have won, there’s still the second leg to come.”
Dinamo staged a major upset to reach the last eight with a 3-2 aggregate win over Tottenham Hotspur but never looked like repeating a stunning 3-0 second-leg victory over the Premier League side as they lacked cutting edge.
The Croatian side were confined to a handful of long-range efforts while their Spanish rivals missed several chances to win by a bigger margin, with substitute Paco Alcacer dragging a close-range shot wide in the 65th minute.
A deflected shot by Manuel Trigueros drew a fingertip save from Livakovic as the visitors found gaps in Dinamo’s half with the home side throwing men forward.
Villarreal were let off the hook in the 26th minute when Mislav Orsic, who bagged a hat-trick against Spurs, had a goal disallowed for offside in the build-up.