|   |  Europa League: Villarreal End Astana's Long Unbeaten Home Run in UEFA Competitions

Europa League: Villarreal End Astana's Long Unbeaten Home Run in UEFA Competitions

Europa League: Villarreal End Astana's Long Unbeaten Home Run in UEFA Competitions
Junior Kabananga (C, yellow) broke the deadlock against Villarreal CF only for FC Astana to suffer a painful 3-2 reverse (Photo credit: fca.kz)

FC Astana were defeated by the Europa League Group A favourites Villarreal CF in an exciting and combative encounter at the packed Astana Arena.

Astana took the lead against Villarreal thanks to a brilliant Junior Kabananga effort before letting it slip through their grasp.

In-form La Liga side produced a coherent performance and put three past the hosts in the process to wrap up the game.

Patrick Twumasi pulled one back for Kazakhstan top club but it was too little too late as Stanimir Stoilov's men suffered a narrow 3-2 loss.

While the outcome propelled Villarreal staight into Round of 32, Astana saw their chances of advancing faded because of SK Slavia Praha's 2-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The Czech Republic side stunned Maccabi in a road outing to leapfrog Astana in the Group A standings ahead of the final matchday.

Kabananga's opener cancelled out

In their last home game of the year, Astana lined up strongest squad, feauturing Yuri Logvinenko as a deep-lying central midfielder.

Ivan Mayewski and Abzal Beisebekov partnered higher up the pitch in the sort of a 4-1-4-1 formation spearheaded by the lone striker Kabananga.

Villarreal set the tone by starting the better of the two sides, with Pablo Fornals and Nicola Sansone causing problems for the home defence.

Manu Trigueros nearly opened the scoring after being played into the box, seeing one of his two efforts saved by keeper Nenad Erić and the other cleared off the line by Logvinenko.

Astana responded in brilliant fashion as Kabananga collected short pass from Patrick Twumasi before sending home a fine curler from outside the area.

The visitors had to increase pressure but Astana managed to hold onto their advantage, staying focused at the back.

Twumasi then finished a brilliant counterattack, his shot being tipped over the crossbar by goalkeeper Mariano Barbosa.

However, it was all square six minutes before the interval following fantastic move capped by Dani Raba who beat Erić from tight angle.

Bakambu provides turnaround

In the second half, Villarreal continued to dominate possession, looking composed offensively and defensively, a true La Liga quality on their side.

Although the game dropped in intensity, the Spaniards proved capable to put themselves in front through substitute Cédric Bakambu.

DR Congo star was played into the box in a manner similar to first goal before firing past Erić, with the ball rolling in with a deflection off the keeper.

Bakambu should have had a double minutes later but failed to beat Erić in one-on-one as Villarreal switched to a more counterattacking tactics.

With Astana looking for the leveller, there were spaces available in their half of the pitch, and the Yellow Submarine exploited them with pace and sharpness.

Bakambu came close with his powerful attempt that whistled over the bar but he atoned for his misses shortly afterwards.

Astana slip behind Slavia 

Ihar Shytaw made a lethal mistake, setting Bakambu for his second with a clumsy touch, and the Congolese hitman was ready to strike a clinical one-timer into the bottom of the net.

Then Astana struggled to create clear-cut chances though managed to capitalise on a rare error from the visiting defence.

Twumasi got the loose ball that deflected off Shytaw, entered the penalty box from the right to slot home his trademark whipping diagonal shot.

After the hosts reduced the deficit, the game burst back into life but Astana were unable to find that crucial equaliser to escape at the death.

The eventual loss was their first one at home in European competitions since the setback against the same opposition back in 2014, ironically.

In their final fixture of the Europa League group phase, Astana will take on their direct rivals SK Slavia Praha away from home on December 7.

UEFA Europa League Group A

FC Astana v Villarreal CF 2-3 (1-1)
23/11/2017, Astana Arena (Astana). Att: 29,800. Ref: Mažeika (LTU).
Astana (KAZ): Erić, Shytaw, Postnikov, Aničić, Shomko, Logvinenko (Despotović 81), Twumasi, Beisebekov (Grahovac 68), Mayewski, Muzhikov (Tomasov 71), Kabananga. HC: Stanimir Stoilov (BUL).
Villarreal (ESP): Barbosa, Rukavina, Bonera, Víctor Ruiz, Adrián Marín, Raba (Ramiro Guerra 76), Rodrigo Hernández, Manu Trigueros, Fornals (Bakambu 59), Sansone, Bacca. HC: Javi Calleja (ESP).
Goals: 1-0 Kabananga (22), 1-1 Raba (39), 1-2 Bakambu (65), 1-3 Bakambu (83), 2-3 Twumasi (88).
YC: Shomko (43), Adrián Marín (63), Mayewski (70), Sansone (75), Grahovac (90+2), Kabananga (90+4).

Maccabi Tel Aviv (ISR) v SK Slavia Praha (CZE) 0-2 (0-1)
Goals: 0-1 Hušbauer (45+1), 0-2 Hušbauer (54)

Group A standings

 Pos  Team  Pld  W  D  L  GF  GA  GD  Pts
 1  Villarreal CF
 5  3  2  0  10  5  +5  11
 2  SK Slavia Praha
 5  2  2  1  6  5  +1  8
 3  FC Astana
 5  2  1  2  9  7  +2  7
 4  Maccabi Tel Aviv
 5  0  1  4  0  8  -8  1

Upcoming fixtures

December 7 – SK Slavia Praha v FC Astana, Villarreal CF v Maccabi Tel Aviv

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