Ernest Muci’s second-half winner spoiled Villa’s debut in the competition as Legia pulled off a deserved 3-2 victory in Poland.
Pawel Wszolek and Muci had twice given Legia a first-half lead only for Jhon Duran and Lucas Digne to peg them back.
Muci pounced six minutes into the second half and Villa never recovered.
Legia boss Kosta Runjaic had billed it as a David v Goliath tie, with Legia going into the Group E opener with hope rather than expectation. Captain Josue, pointed out the vastly different transfer values between the squads.
Maybe it was reverse psychology but they were far from overwhelmed and picked holes in Villa’s sloppy defence.
Villa are expected to not just qualify from the group with ease but challenge for the title in Athens next May but they will have to significantly improve if that is to be the case.
It look just two minutes for the energetic hosts to unpick their visitors with worrying simplicity.
Muci sent Patryk Kun scampering down the right and he crossed for the onrushing Wszolek to fire in from eight yards.
That Legia conceded 13 goals while qualifying for the group stage would have given Villa encouragement for any comeback and, sure enough, it took just four minutes to level.
Nicolo Zaniolo’s strike from 25 yards was turned onto the bar by Kacper Tobiasz and Duran reacted quickest to nod in from close range.
Villa managed to steady themselves as game settled after a rapid start, until Legia regained the lead after 26 minutes.
Again the threat came from out wide, this time from the right. Wszolek was given too much time by Digne to cross for Muci to smash in.
Defensively Villa had been weak, switching off when it mattered most, and Ezri Konsa was the next to escape when Muci went down under pressure in the area but referee Evangelos Manouchos was unmoved.
Still Legia found gaps in the Villa backline when Marc Gual tested Emi Martinez and the visitors looked far from tournament favourites.
Duran’s goal had been their only serious chance but Unai Emery’s men levelled against the run of play six minutes before the break.
Leon Bailey tricked his way through, John McGinn’s shot was blocked and fell to Digne on the edge of the box for the left-back’s deflected volley to find the top corner.
Villa had taken their opportunities to redeem themselves and Legia still needed Tobiasz’s leg to deny Duran an undeserved third just before the break.
Yet if they thought they had tamed Legia they were badly mistaken and, like the first half, the hosts wasted little time in the second.
Emery would have despaired at how open his side were when Gual picked out Muci to run at Konsa, he was pushed wide by Calum Chambers but still managed to squeeze his shot across Martinez and in off a post.
Reinforcements were needed and Ollie Watkins, Douglas Luiz and Moussa Diaby arrived but Villa almost fell further behind when Gual just failed to turn in after Martinez parried Bartosz Slisz’s drive.
From then there appeared little way back with Legia comfortable, Tobiasz never tested – even when Jacob Ramsey shot wide.
Outside of their qualifiers, it had been a long 13 years to return to Europe for Villa. It was not worth the wait.
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