Maribor soccer fans celebrating surprise defeat of Spanish heavyweights Villareal

Maribor - Villareal, photo:

Maribor's soccer team has caused a minor sensation by defeating Spanish heavyweights Villareal 2:1 on their home turf. The match was the third round of the Intertoto Cup, and the second round of qualifying for the prestigious UEFA cup. Villareal is no stranger to top-level matches; last year they made it to the semi-finals of the Champion's League, where they fell to Arsenal. Michael Manske of Radio Slovenia International reports:

The surprising loss to soccer minnow Maribor was seen by some as a fluke that would soon be corrected. Spanish attention, some people thought, had been focused on the World Cup, and needed time to get back in order.

The return game took place in Maribor at the end of July. An early goal in the third minute by Maribor nearly caused pandemonium, but was ruled offside. The rest of the match turned into a prolonged stalemate, with Maribor closing ranks and Villareal unable to crack their defenses.

The first goal only came in the 85th minute, when Villareal's Nihat Kahveci finally managed to score. With only five minutes left to play, Maribor fans grew anxious -- another goal would mean a heartbreaking, last-second loss.

But their fears turned to jubilation when Maribor replied with a 89th-minute goal by Gorazd Zajc:

In the final moments, Villareal grew increasingly desperate, and numerous fouls followed. At one moment, it even looked like a fight would break out. By the end of the match, Villareal had lost an astonishing three players to red cards. But their frenzied efforts didn't help: When the final whistle blew, it was 1:1 - making a 3:2 aggregate win for Maribor, relegation for Villareal, and screams of joy in Slovenia's second largest city.