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Both legs of the UEFA Europa League round of 32 tie between Valencia CF and Stoke City FC were a story of either taking or spurning opportunities.
Each match was won by a single goal, marking a gulf in top-class finishing between the sides. Tony Pulis's team were left to lament their lack of decisiveness up front. However, the concept of taking golden chances also applied to one or two fringe players offered centre stage while key men were rested – an opportunity which some, such as Daniel Parejo, seized eagerly.
The elegant midfielder hit the bar in the opening minutes of the second leg, kept on testing Thomas Sørensen and increasingly showed his array of passes. He knows that injury to Éver Banega – hurt when his car rolled back and crushed his ankle – will probably keep the Argentinian international out for several months. This was his moment.
"Up until now I've not had many opportunities," said the 22-year-old former Getafe CF player. "While it's awful what happened to Éver, it's obvious I might have more chances now and I'm going to try and take them. In fact, I'll give everything I've got.
"We're content with how we played because getting the win and qualifying wasn't easy. This comes after an awful weekend [Valencia lost 5-1 at FC Barcelona] and with our morale on the floor, so this win is very welcome indeed."
Team-mate Bruno Saltor was thrilled with Parejo's display. "Despite not having played regularly for a long time Dani demonstrated he's top class," said the defender. "During the absence of Éver Banega he can take responsibility and prove his great talent."
Notwithstanding Parejo's excellence, it was a lightning-fast combination between Pablo Hernández and Jonas that produced the counterattack goal that clinched the match. That was a killer touch which another bit-part player, Stoke's Kenwyne Jones, failed to apply. An infrequent starter for the Potters this season, he had the chances to give the visitors a shock victory but failed to do so.
His manager, Pulis, agreed. "Kenwyne could have scored four goals," he said. "Their keeper [Vicente Guaita] made two great saves and then there were two headers that Kenwyne would normally have put away. I was a little disappointed we didn't get a penalty but more so that we switched off when the decision didn't come. My players thought it was a penalty but Valencia just went down the pitch and scored their goal."
His view found backing from philosophical Stoke goalkeeper Sørensen. "It was a night of missed chances," explained the Danish international. "In fact, I don't think we expected to have so many opportunities. If we had opened the scoring early it would have unsettled them and kept the game alive until the end. We kept going well and created chances, even late on. It just didn't go for us."
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