Striker David Villa says Valencia CF will be trying to hit the ground running when they kick off their season with a UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie against Swedish champions IF Elsborg on Tuesday.
Valencia were knocked out by Chelsea FC in the quarter-finals last season and are now targeting an immediate return to the group stage. "The only thing on our minds is to qualify for the Champions League, but we have to prove we're the better side on the pitch," said Villa, who has scored 41 goals in 73 Spanish league games since joining Valencia in 2005. "Our aim is to strike first in the 90 minutes at our place and to take more than a one-goal advantage to Sweden in two weeks' time."
Coach Quique Sánchez Flores has omitted new signings Alexis Ruano and Sunday 'Sunny' Obayan, as well as Asier Del Horno, while striker Nikola Žigić's debut has been held up by an ankle injury. Edu remains sidelined following knee ligament surgery, but summer recruits Iván Helguera, Javier Arizmendi and Timo Hildebrand are all available. Hildebrand may have to watch from the bench, however, with 37-year-old goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares poised to play his 100th European match.
"I want the hunger for competition that I can sense among the players to show in this game," Flores said. "The only thing worrying me is that our opponents are in better physical condition. We have to make the most of the other differences between us and them, but we have to be wary of Elfsborg – they are well prepared and have international players in their team."
The Boras-based club have defeated Linfield FC and Debreceni VSC to get this far, and coach Magnus Haglund hopes they will be at full strength as they attempt to reach the group stage for the first time. "Anders Svensson has been receiving treatment on the thigh injury that prevented him playing the full 90 minutes against Debrecen and he is responding well to that," Haglund said. "Denni Avdic has also had problems with his thigh but he should be fine too which is good news."
Haglund remains optimistic despite the fact that the 2000 and 2001 UEFA Champions League finalists appear to have the edge going into this tie. "We have everything to gain and they have everything to lose," he said. "We have to keep it tight, work hard and believe in ourselves. Hopefully that will give us a good start. If we can make them nervous and get them to make mistakes, then who knows." Elfsborg director of sports Stefan Andreasson added: "It's a huge game for the club and for Swedish football – and even though they're a good side, there have been bigger upsets."
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