First Division - Day 9

Valencia 1 - Betis 1

Valencia: Cañizares; Curro Torres (Kily González 75'), Ayala, Pellegrino (Mista 82'), Carboni; Albelda, Baraja; Rufete, Aimar, Vicente; Carew (Angulo 66'). 4-2-3-1.
Betis: Prats; Varela, Juanito, Rivas, Luis Fernández; Marcos Assunçao, Ito; Joaquín (Gudjonsson 89'), Fernando (Arzu 65'), Denilson (Casas 86'); Capi. 4-2-3-1.

Team changes: Valencia: Carboni for Fabio Aurelio / Betis: Varela, Luis Fernández, Marcos Assunçao for Arzu, Mingo, Casas.

0-1. 70. Marcos Assunçao. Bent free kick over wall into corner of net.
1-1. 83. Aimar. Header unmarked back past Prats after cross by Mista.

Second placed Valencia failed to capitalise on the slip by leaders Real Sociedad, and they had to settle for a 1-1 draw in their home tie with Betis. It was an exciting match, with two of the league's best managers coming out all square in a tactical battle of wits which was a delight to watch. Víctor Fernández surprised everyone with a line up which did not include a conventional striker, but Fernando had been on great form recently and he shared the front man role with Capi. Rafa Benítez put out his strongest line up, knowing that he can put out a reserve side in the Champions League tie with Spartak Moscow next Tuesday with his team already assured of being group champions.

The first half ended without goals, with keepers Cañizares and Prats backed by two of the best defences in the league. Prats saved well after the break from Aimar after Juanito slipped, and again from a Baraja header a few minutes later. At the other end Joaquín and Denilson were a constant threat down the wings, giving Curro Torres and Carboni a hard time. It was going to take something special to break through though, and it came with twenty minutes remaining, dead ball specialist Marcos Assunçao bending a free kick over the defensive wall and out of the reach of Cañizares.

For a moment it looked as if the league champions were in for their second home defeat of the season. Benítez made three attacking changes though, changing his big front man Carew for the more rapid Angulo, and taking off full back Torres to bring on Kily González. Then as a last gasp he left himself with two at the back as Mista came on to join the action. With his first touch the new man made himself space down the left, and his floated cross was met by the head of Aimar, ghosting in unmarked from the back to place a header wide of Prats. It saved a point and left the league champions in second place pending Sunday's games, with Betis still four points behind them in seventh spot. The two chess masters acknowledged each other with respect, accepting the stalemate. Both know they will be amongst the leaders at the end of the season.