A superb double from Villarreal substitute Nilmar, including a 94th-minute winner, helped the Spanish Liga side recover from going a goal down to record a 3-2 round of 16 first-leg victory at Bayer Leverkusen.
If Michal Kadlec’s fine 33rd-minute opener at the BayArena rewarded a strong first-half display from Bundesliga high-fliers Leverkusen, Villarreal’s Giuseppe Rossi still sent the teams in level with a typically assured finish three minutes before the interval.
A quiet second half was enlivened when Nilmar scored in the 70th minute within seconds of replacing Rossi, only for Leverkusen to equalise almost straight away through Gonzalo Castro. There was late drama, however, as Nilmar struck again deep into stoppage time, steering a low shot under René Adler after showing dexterity to control a long ball from fellow substitute Joan Oriol.
Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes is a self-confessed Liga addict and the time the former Real Madrid boss spent poring over videos of Villarreal appeared well spent as Kadlec gave the hosts a deserved lead. The full-back unleashed an unstoppable diagonal shot beyond goalkeeper Diego López.
Deprived of supply, Rossi was kept quiet until notching his seventh goal of this Europa League campaign on the counterattack. With Daniel Schwaab and Stefan Reinartz both attracted to the same space, Rossi had the time to work Carlos Marchena’s through ball on to his stronger left foot, open up his body and steer a composed effort past Adler.
Nilmar, introduced after 69 minutes, registered his first when Kadlec challenged the Brazilian international inside the area, the ball ricocheted off the luckless Reinartz, and the forward breached Adler’s defences.
Leverkusen replacement Stefan Kiessling played a part in the equaliser. Castro collected the tall striker’s flick-on from an Arturo Vidal cross, cut inside right-back Mario Gaspar and finished from close range. Yet Nilmar had the final say with his late surge and strike.