Lille 2-1 (3-3 agg, 3-4 pens) Aston Villa: Martínez sees Aston Villa through to the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa Conference League

Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez turned out to be Aston Villa’s hero, and Lille’s Villain, as the FIFA World Cup-winning goalkeeper saved Benjamin André’s penalty – with the tie level at 3-3 (on aggregate) following extra-time – to send Unai Emery’s side to the last four of the UEFA Europa Conference League – where they will meet either Olympiacos or Fenerbahçe SK.

As it happened

Ominously for Villa, Lille had lost only one of their previous 37 matches at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, as that intimidating statistic came to fruition on the stroke of the quarter-hour mark. Recalled to Les Dogues’ XI following Edon Zhegrova’s injury during the 1st leg at Villa Park, Yusuf Yazıcı slotted his side into the lead in sublime style as the Turkish international fired Gabriel Gudmundsson’s delicious delivery into the danger zone past the statuesque figure of Martínez.

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Lille then nearly doubled their lead in the 26th minute, however, Martínez – serenaded with a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball primarily down to his involvement, pre-and-post, in Argentina’s 2022 FIFA World Cup victory – bravely raced off his line to block Gudmundsson’s powerful header with literally only his facial features.

Frustratingly for Emery, Villa concluded the opening 45′ without troubling Lille goalkeeper Lucas Chevalier, as the master tactician returned to the away dressing room in the hope of giving his side an example of his customarily wise words – ahead of the second half with everything still to play for.

Unrivalled in the final third throughout the first half, Lille spurned a glorious opportunity to double their advantage, and subsequently take an overall lead in the tie immediately from the restart as Gudmundsson fired wide after Villa had inexplicably decided to concede possession inside their own half.

Nonetheless, Paulo Fonseca’s side increased their advantage in the 68th minute with Lille captain André as leading by example, as he glanced an instinctive backwards header, courtesy of Hákon Arnar Haraldsson’s inswinging corner, past a gutted Martínez into the far corner of the net. Matty Cash eventually registered Villa’s first shot on target of the night in the 82nd minute as he forced Chevalier to instinctively redirect his fiercely-struck long-range strike over the crossbar.

However, controversially – at least in the eyes of the majority inside of the Stade Pierre-Mauroy Emery’s side kept their dreams of a first semi-final appearance since the unforgettable year of 1982 alive with only three minutes left in regular time. With an eye for goal, Cash hit the jackpot, as the forward-thinking full-back fired the ball into the back of the net after Chevalier had inexplicably dropped the ball from an incoming cross.

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Bafodé Diakité came close to scoring as he did in the 1st leg, however, Martínez was up to the challenge, as he brilliantly denied the defender back-to-back goals in Europe.

Chevalier was all that kept Villa from progressing through to the semi-finals, as Lille’s highly-sought-after keeper first denied second-half substitute Leon Bailey and then got up to spectacularly push away Douglas Luiz’s rebound. Jhon Durán saw his last-ditch effort somehow saved by Chevalier as penalties became the main course on offer to both teams at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy

Ultimately, penalty-saving maestro Martínez proved to be the match-winner – despite appearing to be sent off during the shootout after receiving a second yellow card for persistent banter with home support. Fortunately, bookings received prior to penalties do not roll over into the actual main event itself – leaving him to save André’s spot-kick and subsequently secure Villa’s progression to the last four.

The lineups

LOSC: Chevalier; Santos, Yoro, Diakité, Ismaily; André, Bentaleb; Yazıcı, Haraldsson, Gudmundsson; David

AVL: Martínez; Cash, Konsa, Torres, Digne; McGinn, Luiz, Tielemans; Diaby, Zaniolo, Watkins