Valencia 2 - Sturm Graz 0
Valencia: Cañizares; Djukic, Björklund (Amarilla 60'), Pellegrino; Angloma, Albelda, Baraja (Milla 90'), Kily González (Vicente 80'); Mendieta; Juan Sánchez, Carew. 3-4-1-2.
Valencia won their first game in phase 2 of the championship without ever getting out of second gear against a poor Sturm Graz side. A disappointing crowd of around 25,000 turned up for this match, with manager Héctor Cúper returning to his first choice line up after giving a chance to others in the final matches of the previous group stage. With left back Carboni injured, the manager opted to play three central defenders, with Angloma returning from injury at right wing back and Kily back from international duty on the left. Deschamps was also still not fit, so Albelda kept his place, with Mendieta playing behind the two strikers.
The record of Austrian teams against Spaniards is abysmal, having lost 18 out of 22 previous encounters in Europe, and Valencia could be pardoned for an excess of confidence at the beginning. However even though they dominated the first half with over two thirds possession of the ball, they did not take their chances, with Sánchez volleying straight at the keeper in the fourth minute and Baraja shooting just wide on the half hour mark their best efforts. The Austrians started to believe in themselves, and Vastic forced a good save out of Cañizares in their first shot at goal three minutes from half time. However before Danish referee Kim Nielsen blew the whistle for half time Valencia had made the breakthrough, Carew coming from behind totally unmarked to head Mendieta's corner goalwards. Keeper Sidorczuk managed to get a hand to it, but the ball spun away and in to the goal off the post.
Two minutes after the interval the move was repeated, with Juan Sánchez this time meeting Mendieta's corner on the near post to steer it past Sidorczuk, the diminutive striker's first goal in eight games. That gave Valencia the cushion they needed, although they kept up the constant barrage on the Sturm Graz goal in search of a big win. On the hour mark an unfortunate clash of heads between Djukic and Björklund left both needing treatment, and the Swede had to leave the field with blood streaming out of a cut over his eye. With Ayala cup tied, Paraguayan youngster Amarilla came on in his place for his first appearance for his new team.
Later in the game the Valencia players were lining up to shoot at goal, with Sidorczuk saving time and time again from Sánchez, Carew, Mendieta and Baraja. Kily struck the post with a fierce shot and Carew missed the easiest chance of the match, inexplicably spooning the ball over the bar from two yards out. In the last couple of minutes Sturm Graz woke up Cañizares with a couple of shots, but it was really all over, and Valencia had the first points in the bag. From here on though it gets more difficult, with a visit to Panathinaikos next and then a double header against Manchester United in the new year. At least for now things are looking good.