Lille defeat Aston Villa 2-1

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Aston Villa manager Unai Emery initially believed Emiliano Martinez had been sent off during a chaotic penalty shootout against Lille.

However, the goalkeeper’s pivotal save secured Villa’s advancement to their first major European semi-final since 1982.

In an unprecedented shootout following a 3-3 aggregate draw after extra time, Villa’s Martinez received a second yellow card for what appeared to be a gesture towards the home fans, despite having been booked earlier for time-wasting.

However, as his initial booking did not carry over into the shootout, Martinez was permitted to continue.

The Argentina World Cup winner proceeded to make a crucial save against Nabil Bentaleb’s penalty and later denied Benjamin Andre’s attempt, ultimately securing Villa’s victory with a 4-3 win on penalties.

Martinez then celebrated with Villa’s ecstatic traveling supporters, running almost the entire length of the pitch to do so.

Asked whether he and his players thought Martinez had been dismissed in the shootout, Emery said: “Yes. He is very important for us.

“On the pitch he has his personality and he played fantastic. He saved two penalty shots so of course I am very proud of him.”

Earlier in the shootout, Ollie Watkins was made to wait to take his penalty as there were two balls on the pitch before the England forward stepped up to score.

In the earlier stages of the shootout, Ollie Watkins had to wait to take his penalty due to the presence of two balls on the pitch. However, the England forward eventually stepped up and successfully converted his spot-kick.

In a dramatic evening in northern France, Unai Emery’s team found themselves just three minutes away from elimination after goals from Yusuf Yazici and Benjamin Andre nullified Villa’s 2-1 lead from the first leg.

However, Matty Cash’s deflected strike in the 87th minute, following a dropped cross by goalkeeper Lucas Chevalier, leveled the aggregate score at 3-3 and forced extra time. Despite the additional period, no further goals were scored, leading the tie to be decided by penalties.

Aston Villa will now await the outcome of the match between Olympiakos and Fenerbahce to determine their semi-final opponent. The latter fixture took place later on Thursday, with Olympiakos holding a 3-2 advantage from the first leg.

Martinez ignores the jeers

Throughout the match, Martinez faced jeers from Lille fans, likely stemming from his penalty-saving heroics during Argentina’s World Cup final triumph over France in 2022.

In the first half, he received his initial yellow card for time-wasting. However, confusion ensued among spectators when Martinez, having been booked again during the shootout, was permitted to continue playing. This allowance was in line with the rules, which stipulate that yellow cards do not carry over into penalty shootouts.

“Yesterday you [the media] were all asking me about the reception he [Martinez] will get here in France and you could see it throughout the game,” added Emery.

“He is very experienced and he was trying to control his emotions but the supporters were pushing him. I believe in him and he is mature but with personality. He is always under his own control.”

Martinez defended his actions after the game.

“It’s all about reputation for time-wasting because the other goalie was doing exactly the same thing,” he told TNT Sports.

“I got a yellow after 30 minutes and we were losing the game so I don’t know what the ref wants from me.

“Then there was no ball in the penalty spot and I was asking for a ball from the ball boy and I get booked; I just don’t understand the rules.

“I am a believer and a hard worker and it was my destiny today.”

Amidst the spectacle, Villa persevered, ensuring that at least one English club will feature in a European semi-final this season, following Manchester City and Arsenal’s elimination from the Champions League on Wednesday, and Liverpool and West Ham’s departure from the Europa League on Thursday.

While not delivering their most polished performance, Villa demonstrated resilience when trailing 2-0, ultimately salvaging hope late in the game through Cash’s contribution. Though the Europa Conference League may be UEFA’s third-tier tournament, Villa is relishing every moment of the journey.

Their continued presence in the competition keeps alive their aspirations for a top-four finish in the Premier League and the opportunity to claim their first major European trophy in 42 years under Emery’s inaugural full season at the helm.