Valencia 1-1 Club Brugge
Valencia only required a point this evening to guarantee qualification from UEFA cup group G with a game to spare, and as expected Unai Emery rang the changes, with only Marchena surviving from the team that started against Real Betis on Sunday.
Los Che had an attacking set-up with Morientes joined up front by the Serbian Zigic, and the prodigious youngster Pablo gained another opportunity to advance his fledgling career.
Club Brugge came to Spain on excellent form, and after drawing their first two matches in the section they were out to grab the three points they needed to put their qualification hopes back on track.
And it was the Belgians who deservedly took the lead on eighteen minutes, in front of a sparse crowd at the Mestalla. Roland Vargas floated a hopeful ball into the area, and young goalkeeper Guaita who was making his debut in the white of Valencia, attempted to come and collect. But he was left hopelessly exposed, and Antonin Alcaraz gleefully nodded home.
The home side huffed and puffed after going behind but never at any point looked like breaking down the Jupiler League leaders during a frankly dismal opening period. Morientes dribbled a shot tamely past before Pablo blasted over from a tight angle, but it was a dreadfully poor contest, and Brugge were more than happy to let Valencia attempt to force the play.
However, not a shot on target from Emery’s men was indicative of how toothless their offensive play was in the opening period. The upcoming crunch match against Barcelona in La Liga at the weekend had undoubtedly affected the manager’s team selection, and his replacements offered no indication that they could challenge for a place in the side for the Camp Nou fixture.
Club Brugge are a solid, hardworking outfit and they were proving difficult to break down. The pace of striker Wesley Sonck also proved dangerous on the break and as the match wore on and Valencia commited more men to the cause, the more space the Belgian international was finding against Marchena and Helguera.
And on the hour mark, Sonck linked up to good effect with Ronald Vargas, but with the midfielder through on goal young stopper Guaita redeemed his earlier error by blocking well. Club Brugge really should have given themselves an unassailable lead, and typically they were made to pay moments later.
Beanpole forward Nicola Zigic powered a header into the net following a corner from Hugo Viana, and the Spaniards had grabbed a somewhat undeserved equaliser.
The goal aroused Los Che into action and for a brief spell they could sense a clinching goal. Hugo Viana, making a rare start, fired in a free-kick that took a wild ricochet off the wall but the ball snaked inches wide of the post with goalkeeper Stijnen completely bewildered.
Soon after though the match settled into procession to the final whistle, with Valencia happy to take the point they came for, and Brugge, who were well deserving of their point on the night, will face Copenhagen at home to seal their spot in the last 32 of the UEFA cup.
Valencia: Guaita; Torres, Marchena, Helguera, Del Horno; Juame (Vicente 54’), Hugo Viana, Maduro (Albiol 64'); Morientes (Manuel Fernandes 74'), Zigic, Pablo
Club Brugge: Stijnen; Clement, Kluwkowski, Alcaraz, Ciman; Daerden, Geraerts, Simaeys, Vargas (Van Heerden 90'); Sonck (Akpala 82'), Dirar
--Paul Macdonald, Goal.com