By Graham Hunter at the Mestalla
Valencia CF kicked off their UEFA Champions League campaign with the same scoreline by which they won last season's UEFA Cup final, beating RSC Anderlecht 2-0 in Group G.
First-half goals from Vicente Rodríguez and Rubén Baraja were enough to earn three points as the Spanish side put in a compelling display of powerful football. In his first Champions League match in charge of Valencia, coach Claudio Ranieri fielded a team comprised almost entirely of the club's 2003/04 UEFA Cup winning heroes. Roberto Ayala is still injured and Mista remains out of favour despite finishing as Valencia's leading scorer last season.
But the return of revered Argentinian playmaker Pablo Aimar to the side, having missed so much of 2004 with a succession of injuries, was something to please the Valencia fans. Anderlecht coach Hugo Broos, in Spain to win three points, used Anthony Vanden Borre as a man-marker for Aimar who featured as the link between midfield and the strikers in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Broos had asked his team to go on the attack in an attempt to end their run of one away victory in 18 European matches and to emulate their last victory in Spain which came, at this same stadium, 20 years ago. However Valencia played with the greater cohesion and urgency from the first minute and Aimar danced around goalkeeper Daniel Zitka, with lightning fast footwork, but Miguel Angulo's header was made more difficult by a slight touch away from him by Vincent Kompany.
Kompany then outdid himself with a fantastic block as Angulo, again, was about to score. Aimar found Francisco Rufete whose left-footed chip enabled Angulo to muscle past Lamine Traore just six metres from goal, and as the Spaniard prepared to shoot, Kompany arrived with an outstandingly timed tackle.
Valencia finally went ahead in the 16th minute as Aimar found Rufete and the midfield player's chip into the area was spilled by Zitka and the ball fell kindly to Vicente, who fired home a low shot from just inside the box.
As Anderlecht struggled to find time on the ball or movement from Aruna Dindane and Mbo Mpenza up front, Aimar casually lost his marker with clever movements to either side of the pitch. And with half-time approaching, Vicente changed wings from left to right, cut inside and fed Baraja who changed the ball from right foot to left, beating Vanden Borre, and slotted home a low shot past Zitka.
Anderlecht were far more competitive after the break with the tempo of the play immediately higher as Broos converted midfielder Christian Wilhelmsson into Anderlecht's third striker.
Mpenza comes close
Dindane's mazy left-wing run almost benefited from the change when Wilhelmsson played a brilliantly weighted wall-pass with the Ivory Coast striker. Inside the area, Dindane shot across goal but it was slightly too far ahead of Mpenza to score.
Ranieri's answer was to withdraw Rufete, introduce Bernardo Corradi and move Angulo to the right wing, allowing Aimar to play as the second striker. The reward was some lovely flowing football – but no immediate third goal when Angulo's firm right-footed shot was disallowed for offside.
Wilhelmsson confirmed his status as the Belgian side's best player in the second half with a powerful run down three quarters of the left side of the pitch to earn a corner, but Anderlecht could not find a way through to goal.
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