Work in Sports
Valencia in top form for first Champions League final
Posted: Wednesday May 24, 2000 12:24 AM
By Pedro Pinto, CNNSI.com
PARIS -- Valencia enters the Champion's League final in net-shattering form, winning 8 of its last 11 matches, while scoring more than 3.5 goals per game.
This run has seen Hector Cuper's side go from underdog to favorite against Real Madrid, a club that has already won 7 European Cups.
"They have more experience in games like this," admits Valencia captain Gaizka Mendieta. "But this is a final, and only one match and it is part of a competition where we have played many other good teams. So our players gained a lot of experience as well."
"The players are conscious of the importance of this match, and that is crucial in a battle like this," Cuper said confidently. "If the players aren't ready, it's my fault, because I didn't motivate them enough. But I am not afraid of that, and now our motivation is at the highest level."
After starting the season with four straight defeats, Cuper managed to change the fortunes of his team around, with Claudio Lopez and Mendieta leading the way. Both players led Valencia in scoring in the Champion's League, with 5 goals apiece.
But the midfield maestro is cautious about predicting any goals.
"The only thing that goes through my head before a game like this is that my team can win and that Mendieta has a good game -- whether I manage to score a goal or not. What I must concentrate on is making as few errors as possible and play as well as I can so we can win the cup."
Star striker Claudio "El Piojo" Lopez added, "We can't change anything. We must do the same we've done all along: play at 1,000 kilometers per hour. It's only one game, the most important of all, and I don't think we should hold back, because we have to win it."
Valencia will try to attack, but it must also worry about Real's striking force, which is led by Raul, Fernando Morientes and Nicolas Anelka. The Frenchman scored two crucial goals against Bayern Munich, and will be a constant threat up front.
"I think Anelka is a great player who can do many things," confessed Valencia defender Jocelyn Angloma. "But it's a final and in order for us to win we must contain more than one player. Although he can make a big difference."
Each team has played exactly 24 hours of football to get to Stade de France, and Real and Valencia know that it will probably all come down to just 90 minutes on Wednesday.
Notes:Real got acquainted with the Stade de France pitch as it practiced for the last time before the deciding match, and all the picked players looked healthy, including Nicolas Anelka, who had suffered from a knee injury. Savio and Michel Salgado, who were doubtful for the match, also looked ready to go, so Real is nearly at full strength for one of its most important matches ever...
Valencia's last training session was marred by an injury to left-winger Kily Gonzalez. The Argentine limped off 20 minutes into the team's practice with what club sources later revealed was a strained ligament in his left knee. He is doubtful for Wednesday's game...
This will be Claudio Lopez's last game for the club, before he leaves for Italy to play for Lazio, so he'll be looking to end his career in Spain with a bang...
Captain Gaizka Mendieta, who is a key figure in the side, will be aiming to impress Spain national team manager Jose Antonio Camacho by putting in an impressive performance on Wednesday.