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Soccer: Danjuma double sends Villarreal into Champions League last 16

Soccer: Danjuma double sends Villarreal into Champions League last 16
December 10, 2021 Reuters

BERGAMO (Reuters) – Villarreal became the last team to reach the Champions League knockout stages as Netherlands international Arnaut Danjuma's double helped them to a 3-2 win at Atalanta in their rearranged final Group F match on Thursday.

The game was scheduled to take place on Wednesday but was postponed due to snow, and Villarreal wasted no time in putting themselves in the driving seat, with Danjuma racing clear to break the deadlock inside three minutes.

Atalanta had more of the ball in Bergamo and mustered plenty of attempts at goal, but their wastefulness proved costly as Etienne Capoue made it 2-0 three minutes before their break.

The home side knew only victory would do for them to grab the final last-16 qualification spot in the group behind Manchester United, and came out for the second half in all-out-attack mode.

Down the other end, however, Danjuma appeared to put the result beyond all doubt in the 51st minute with a fine goal on the turn, before substitute Ruslan Malinovskiy rifled home to give Atalanta hope 19 minutes from time.

Duvan Zapata scored again for Atalanta with a well-taken goal, but it was not enough as Villarreal secured second spot, four points ahead of the Italian side who go into the Europa League.

"We started very badly and in these games it becomes difficult when you go behind so early," Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini told Amazon.

"The players put in a lot of good performances, but we missed a little bit tonight. When we managed to improve the game was gone."

Danjuma's first came about after Atalanta were caught too high up the pitch when conceding possession, with the Villarreal striker slotting through the legs of home goalkeeper Juan Musso.

It was the fastest goal Atalanta had ever conceded in the Champions League, but it did not disrupt their flow.

The chances came and went for the hosts while Capoue's emphatic strike and a smart finish from Danjuma - his 10th goal of the season in all competitions – seemingly ended the match as a contest.

But this Atalanta side are not lacking in spirit, and soon battled back. Malinovskiy’s arrowing strike did not cause Villarreal too much concern, but Zapata's lofted finish did and Luis Muriel hit the post moments later.

The visitors held on, however, and their first Champions League campaign in a decade will continue into the knockout stages.