Villarreal fans welcome players after club’s 1st major title

MADRID — Fans of Villarreal, based in a city of about 50,000 people in southeastern Spain, took to the streets on Thursday to celebrate the team’s Europa League title, the club’s first ever major trophy.

Villarreal clinched the title with a victory over Manchester United in a penalty shootout on Wednesday in Poland.

The team arrived back home on Thursday and paraded through the small city near Valencia. Players then lifted the trophy at the team’s La Cerámica stadium in an event without the presence of fans but with team officials and players’ relatives on hand.

Fans lined up through the streets to greet the players who triumphed 11-10 in a marathon penalty shootout after goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli converted his penalty kick and then stopped the one taken by United goalkeeper David de Gea. The game ended 1-1 after extra time.

“Not even in my wildest dreams I imagined a penalty shootout that ended with me scoring a penalty kick and then saving another, especially when it meant the first ever title for a club,” Rulli said.

The victory also gave Villarreal a place in the Champions League next season, guaranteeing a big economic boost to the club.

Spain’s “Yellow Submarine,” as the team is known because of its yellow uniform and low profile, is run by president Fernando Roig, a local businessman who has been at the club’s helm since the 1997-98 season and who is worth around $1.8 billion according to Forbes. He is a part-owner of Spain’s largest supermarket chain and owns a leading ceramics group.

Villarreal has finished in the top seven in the Spanish league in seven of the last eight seasons, including this one. Its best finish was second place in 2007-08. It made it to the Champions League semifinals in 2005-06, and to the Europa League semifinals three different times, the last in 2015-16.

Some famous Villarreal players from the past include Uruguayan striker Diego Forlán, Argentine midfielder Juan Riquelme and Spanish midfielder Marcos Senna.

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