Holders Manchester United failed to secure top spot in UEFA Champions League Group E but qualified for the knockout stage of the competition after another 0-0 draw with Villarreal at El Madrigal on Tuesday. Villarreal, still undefeated at home in the competition, join United in the last 16 and the final round of group matches will now decide who tops the group.
Manchester United, who have the superior goal difference, host Aalborg BK on 12 December while Villarreal have a tougher trip to Celtic on the same day. Once again there was no separating these two teams who have failed to produce a goal in 360 minutes of European football having played each other four times in the Champions League with every game ending 0-0.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said that he had been impressed by his side's second-half performance. "I thought we deserved better out of this match," said the Scot, who has guided the team to two Champions League trophies in his time in charge. "I was satisfied with the second-half performance and I felt that Villarreal were just happy to get the draw."
Cristiano Ronaldo hit the crossbar at the end of the first half for United, who had the better chances, but Villarreal could also have stolen the points. Spanish defender Joan Capdevila was sent off eight minutes from time for a challenge on Ronaldo .
"I didn't really see the incident," said Ferguson. "However, I had spoken about Ronaldo needing protection from officials and this evening (Tuesday) we had a good referee."
Ferguson received a major boost with Ronaldo being declared fit after overcoming a leg injury sustained against Villa at the weekend. With Dimitar Berbatov injured Carlos Tevez was expected to start but the Argentine, becoming increasingly used to life out of the first eleven, was surprisingly left on the substitutes bench with Wayne Rooney as a lone striker. For Villarreal, Giuseppe Rossi faced his former club for the first time after finding competition too fierce at Old Trafford.
Rooney had the ball in the net for the visitors after seven minutes but it did not count with Patrice Evra flagged offside. Ronaldo, jeered by the home crowd, was involved in an early spat with Ariel Ibagaza.
Villarreal were being suffocated by the champions's intense pressing in midfield but carved open a chance on 17 minutes with Santiago Cazorla forcing a save from Kuszczak. Ronaldo then underlined his goal threat rattling the crossbar four minutes from half-time with Diego Lopez pulling off a fine fingertip save to deny the Portuguese schemer.
At half-time Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini was forced to substitute his captain Marcos Senna who had been struggling with a knock. Ronaldo looked the man most likely to break the stalemate and early in the second half Lopez saved his low drive and Rooney could not convince the referee that he warranted a penalty after collapsing in the area.
Despite a draw being good enough for both teams to qualify neither side was settling for the stalemate and Villarreal had their best opening on 65 minutes with a terrific Cazorla cross somehow evading everyone. Capdevila made a heroic goal-line clearance on 80 minutes to deny Rooney only to be strangely sent off minutes later.