First Division - Day 34

Mallorca 1 - Valencia 1

Mallorca: Leo Franco; Campano, Olaizola, Nadal, Siviero, Miguel Soler; Robles (Paunovic 66'), Ibagaza (Novo 75'), Marcos; Eto'o, Luque. 5-3-2.
Valencia: Cañizares; Curro Torres, Djukic, Marchena (Mista 84'), Carboni; Albelda, Baraja; Rufete (Juan Sánchez 64'), Aimar, Kily González (Vicente 46'); Angulo. 4-2-3-1.

Team changes: Mallorca: Campano for Paco Soler / Valencia: No change.

1-0. 45. Luque. Diving header after Campano played ball in from right.
1-1. 63. Baraja. Low header past Leo Franco after corner from right.

Report by C.P.Rune

Following their majestic win over Real Sociedad last week Valencia were looking to increase the pressure at the top of the league with a tricky game away to struggling Mallorca. With Madrid still involved in the Champions league this was Valencia's chance to stake their claim for the domestic title, an honour that has eluded them since 1971.

Mallorca came to the game on the back of a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of high-flying Deportivo and needed at least a point to keep them above the trap door. Their third place last year must seem like a lifetime away. To assist the home side, tickets had been reduced to as low as 3 euros and as a result the stadium was packed.

The game started slowly with both sides looking to work openings but fearful of giving too much away at the back. A long range shot past the post from Baraja in the seventh minute the only hint that the goals might be in danger. Once the initial nerves had been calmed Valencia looked the more composed side and started to probe further forward.

In the 18th minute Aimar, who had once again looked like the class player he is in the pivotal midfield role for Valencia, nearly scored a goal that would have had the goal of the season competition looking at a new favourite. The ball was cleverly slipped to him deep inside the Valencia half and as he eased away from his marker and approached the halfway line he glanced up and saw his fellow Argentine, Leo Franco, ten yards off his line. From inside his own half he launched a shot that was destined for the top right hand corner of the goal and the keeper, back-pedalling furiously, ended up making a sensational save to tip the ball over the bar to also save his blushes.

After that wake up call Mallorca came back into the game and in the 30th minute scored a goal that was disallowed, although few in the packed ground could understand why. A neat move saw the ball angled out to the experienced Miguel Soler advancing down the left wing and his clever cross was cut back across the area along the ground. The Valencia defence, expecting the ball to be whipped in were racing towards their own goal and had to turn back to cut the cross out. Marchena turned in despair as the ball shot behind him and Eto'o, arriving unmarked on the penalty spot, swept the ball first time into the net and wheeled away in celebration. The cheers turned to jeers as the referee gave Valencia a free kick for a foul by Luque on Marchena that looked harsh, to say the least.

This seemed to galvanise Mallorca who sensed that the Valencia defence were not as invincible as their reputation this season had suggested. Eto'o nearly got onto the end of a curling cross deep into the penalty area but could only steer the ball over the bar with Caņizares nowhere. Four minutes later the big Spanish keeper was everywhere as his fellow central defenders both went for the same ball. As they tumbled to the ground in a heap the ball bounced through to Eto'o who, with only Caņizares to beat, could not prevent Spain's number one from pulling off an important save.

Valencia kept getting caught offside as the experienced Nadal marshalled a solid back three for the islanders. The game was drifting to the break and with Valencia thinking about their half time oranges, Mallorca finally managed to get the ball into the net without intervention from either Caņizares or the referee. Carboni was limping away from a strong challenge ten yards from the Valencia corner flag and his fellow defenders were looking at their own feet seconds later as the resulting free kick was quickly taken by Ibagaza and whipped into the area by Campano. Everyone stood still with the exception of Luque who, arriving like a train, met the ball with a firm forehead from six yards and the ball shot past a helpless Caņizares. It was no less than Mallorca deserved and set up a fascinating second half.

Rafa Benítez made changes at half time taking off Kily, putting on Vicente and pushing the wing backs further forward. They seemed to be creating more and in the hour their pressure finally told. The warning signs were there when a fine ball into the area was scrambled to the feet of Aimar 18 yards out. Though his shot was weak it was fumbled round the post by Leo Franco. The keeper failed to redeem himself from the corner and his hesitation allowed Baraja to stoop on the edge of the 6 yard box and, unmarked, head the ball home. It was a tame equaliser following some good defending but as Valencia had shown, you only need to switch off for a second to let the opposition in.

Valencia, who needed all three points, took Rufete off for Sánchez and continued to push forward and keep the game's tempo high. Despite their obvious class they failed to carve out any clear cut chances. As Mallorca became more desperate a couple of free kicks from outside the box caused hearts to flutter in the crowd. One from 30 yards was too easy for the keeper to deal with but one from closer in had him rooted to the ground. Aimar held his head as his glorious curling shot over a six man wall bent agonisingly away from the goal.

Between these two chances Mallorca had shown that their pace on the break could snatch the game and Djukic had to be alert as Luque, free on the left, squared the ball across the goal where the speedy Eto'o couldn't get in front of the defender. With 5 minutes to go Valencia went for broke by taking off a central defender, Marchena, and put on Mista to try and force the issue in the dying moments. The closest they came was in the 88th minute when a beautiful, slick passing movement, so typical of Valencia, found Angulo the wrong side of Soler with the ball at his feet and just the goalkeeper to beat. He seemed to have hammered his shot low through the keepers legs who somehow managed to lower himself down and sit on the ball. With that he sat on Valencia's chances of taking all the points, and at the same time guaranteed his side a vital point that should help them survive in the top flight.

In the end it was a fair result although the tension of the evening was typified after the final whistle when Angulo and Eto'o exchanged blows rather than shirts. A good result for Mallorca, but bitter sweet for Valencia. They go one point clear but for how long? As long as Osasuna can beat Madrid they will be there next week.