Ahead of tonight’s reunion with David De Gea, Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli has only one regret about his penalty save that settled the Europa League final against Manchester United: he would have liked it to be against a field player.
First, Rulli scored ahead of De Gea to give Villarreal an 11-10 lead in that extraordinary sudden-death shootout in Gdansk last May. Then he saved his counterpart’s kick to win the final.
It must be the goalie union thing, but he really doesn’t like that particular detail of the story.
Geromino Rulli is Villarreal goalkeeper looking for another Manchester United scalp tonight
Rulli (right) saved David de Gea’s penalty when Villarreal won the Europa League final
“I would have preferred the shootout to end beforehand and stop all kicks instead of the goalie,” he said.
“We do the same job and it is sometimes thankless. I know how much a goalie suffers, so I would have preferred to stop a kick from an outfield. ‘
From his own successful penalty, he remembers not even realizing it was his turn: “I remember the previous penalty from [Victor] Lindelof and I were upset because I had touched it without stopping it.
“I had lost count, with so many penalties drawn, and when I got away from the goal, the referee told me: ‘Goalkeeper, it’s your turn to shoot’.
Rulli said Sportsmail that he wishes he had saved a crucial fielder’s kick instead
Rulli (left) had to step up and score a penalty before becoming the shootout savior in the final
“At the beginning, I did a double take: me? Are you sure no one has been forgotten? Then from the moment I took the ball all I could think about was hitting the back of the net.
“I had never practiced taking a penalty myself beyond messing around in training with a teammate.
“It was about hitting hard and trying to lift him up. Tough and high, exactly what we goalkeepers don’t like. I hit him with all I had left, my heart and my soul. And luckily, he entered.
He’s still surprised at how calm he was before the kick.
“I can’t believe how much I wasn’t really aware of the responsibility I had because all of my teammates had scored. They had done their job and I couldn’t save a single shot. foot.
Rulli’s heroism helped Villarreal win their first-ever major honor in Spanish club history
“I never thought about the fact that I was playing in the final and against Manchester United and with De Gea against me, I just thought about not spoiling everything, putting it on.”
After scoring, he still had to finish the job and save De Gea. “As for David’s kick, I had no idea where he was going to put it, but the way he approached the ball and the last leg of his swing made me think that ‘it was impossible for him to hit him very hard,’ says Rulli, describing the ‘milliseconds’ that changed his club’s history by giving them their very first trophy and leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still without his as manager of Manchester United.
Hearing the 29-year-old recount the events of the night – gloves thrown at the crowd at the end, supercharged Unai Emery telling his team to face the final like a bunch of brothers – is remembering what he intended to the city club of 50,000 inhabitants which had never played European football before 2003.
Europa League triumph earned yellow submarine a Champions League spot
That put them in the Champions League for one thing and the draw placed them with a United side now bolstered by the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo whom Rulli has known from previous LaLiga encounters between Real Sociedad and Real Madrid. .
“I think he scored a hat-trick against me,” he said. “And there was another game where he took two penalties against me, scoring one and missing the other.
“It will be the first Champions League game at Old Trafford for him and they have signed [Raphael] Varane and [Jadon] Sancho too.
“But we’ll play our game and we think we can take on anyone; we showed that against Chelsea in the Super Cup final. ‘
Rulli isn’t worried about taking on Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo (right)
Rulli (right) has known Ronaldo (top) well since his time at Real Sociedad against Real Madrid
As well as meaning a lot for Villarreal, the Europa League victory also made a difference for Rulli, brought to Europe from Argentina club Estudiantes by an investment group in 2014 partly owned by Manchester City for whom he has never played, and moving to Real Sociedad where his career began to stall following a drop in form.
After a mistake that cost his team points, he admitted his wife Rocio Esposito “cried all night” as criticism of him began to affect those close to him. And he enlisted the help of people who he said “had nothing to do with the football world” to help him deal with things mentally.
It is normal for his wife to be in Gdansk to see her husband enjoying his best hours. In a stadium with drastically restricted attendance due to Covid restrictions, could he even hear her screams?
Rulli is used to playing against top opponents such as Real Madrid and Karim Benzema (right)
“She couldn’t even bear to watch,” Rulli laughs. “She had been teasing me for years: when am I going to save a penalty and when am I going to score a goal? Now she can’t complain anymore!
Pandemic restrictions had prevented his family in Argentina from traveling to Poland for the game, but he was not alone. And that was even truer after his rescue from De Gea when he was mobbed by his teammates and club staff.
“I turn around and there are about 60 of them charging towards me to give me a hug,” he says. And back in union goalie mode, he adds: “It’s a good thing about our position. When your teammates depend entirely on you, the satisfaction when you deliver is huge. ‘
Rulli is the man Ronaldo and Co need to get past if they want their first European points