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FOOTBALL
Richard Forster gives us the lowdown on the Valencia Chelsea match last week in London

Valencia v Chelsea
Valencia’s President Juan Soler’s pre-match declaration that a draw and an away goal would be a good result was achieved with distinction by his team in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final with Chelsea.
Their visit to London on Wednesday night produced a spectacular goal from David Silva which rocked the home team before an equaliser by the Premiership’s leading striker Didier Drogba left the tie delicately poised for the return leg next Tuesday at Valencia’s Mestalla stadium.

Silva was Valencia’s best player striking a superb dipping 30-yard shot which put Valencia in the lead in the 30th minute and means Chelsea have to score in Valencia next week to stay in the Champions League. Chelsea’s manager Jose Mourinho is confident of doing just that and his team have already proved earlier this season in a pulsating match with Barcelona that they are the equal of Spain’s top clubs and are not intimidated by the local crowd. “We will go there, be positive and any result is possible for us,” declared the Chelsea manager. Ever the showman he says he will take his kids to the wrestling in London if they are eliminated by Valencia.

Mourinho had played to the press gallery all week even checking out the number of showers in the away dressing room to shoot down Spanish press rumours that Chelsea had deliberately reduced these to three to intimidate Valencia. While Mourinho’s impromptu visit of the dressing room in question during his press conference raised laughs among the gathered hacks, his team were far less entertaining during a poor first half which saw them fall behind to Valencia’s superior passing and teamwork.

Valencia had come with an ambitious outlook with Silva and Spain’s hottest prospect David Villa at the front of a 4-4-2 formation. They deserved their half-time lead despite Chelsea’s Kalou striking the crossbar in the first half but the home team’s physical commitment was rewarded in the 53rd minute with an opportunist header by Drogba over the advancing Canizares from a long and hopeful punt by Ashley Cole. While Chelsea lacked some of Valencia’s finesse, their persistence and self-belief gained them a lifeline and set up the tie as President Soler had wanted as a showdown at the Mestalla. 

The winners will almost certainly face another English club in the semi-final as Liverpool virtually killed off their tie with PSV Eindhoven by winning the first leg 3-0 away on Tuesday night. If Valencia do overcome Chelsea, it brings the mouthwatering prospect of the return of Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez to his former club. Benitez, a folk hero in Valencia, won the club its first Primera Liga title for thirty years in 2002 and also masterminded Valencia’s triumph in the 2004 UEFA Cup.

©2007/2008 Richard Forster

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