By Inaki Angulo
Two moments of magic changed Valencia's Champions League destiny late last month. With their hopes of progress to the second round hanging in the balance and BATE Borisov looking likely to claim at least a point, up popped Roberto Soldado to alter the course of the club's clash in Minsk and save the day.
An audacious move into the box forced a penalty moments before half-time which he himself converted, while a thunderous volley made it 2-0 some 10 minutes into the second half and sealed success before a third came later on to cap a night of personal satisfaction for the striker - plus an evening of respite and redemption for the Mestalla outfit as they moved into a three-way tie at the top of Group F.
In his third season at the club, Soldado is in the finest form of his career. These have been trying times for Valencia, with symbols such as Santiago Canizares and Ruben Baraja retiring in recent years, and Spain stars departing for pastures new, with David Villa, David Silva, Juan Mata and Jordi Alba all moving on over the past few summers.
But Soldado stayed and even rejected a big-money move to Tottenham in the summer. Having moved around earlier on in his career before returning to his local club in the summer of 2010, the striker has finally found home and is now his side's one true leader - the bright light shining despite the team's sub-standard start under Mauricio Pellegrino in 2012-13.
ROBERTO SOLDADO, 27
STRIKER | VALENCIA
With seven goals in 13 games so far this term and four for Spain in 2012, too, he is currently La Roja's most on-form striker and can consider himself unfortunate to have missed out on Euro 2012. At club level, meanwhile, his volley in the 2-0 win over Atletico Madrid on Saturday was confirmation of his magic moment: a world-class goal from a world-class striker.
On Wednesday night, against BATE Borisov once more, this time at home, Soldado leads Valencia's hopes of sealing a place in the second round - something which now looks well within their reach. And having had spells at Real Madrid, Osasuna and Getafe before returning to his local club, he will feel he is in the right place at the right time now. And success for La Roja could come next, because with David Villa approaching the twilight of his playing days and few orthodox frontmen around in La Liga, Valencia could again provide the starting striker for Spain.