RC Deportivo La Coruña's stylish midfield player Juan Carlos Valerón will be a key figure as the Galicians attempt to claw back a three-goal deficit against European champions AC Milan on Wednesday night.
Depor, now in their fourth consecutive term in the UEFA Champions League, felt the full force of Carlo Ancelotti's Milan in a frenzied first leg. Walter Pandiani had given the Spanish side an eleventh-minute lead and Depor managed to keep the hosts at bay until moments before the interval when Kaká struck with Milan's equaliser. Cue a whirlwind eight minutes at the beginning of the second half which left Depor trailing 4-1 and wondering what had hit them.
Not good enough
Going back over the events of that night, Valerón is first to admit that once Milan got into their stride, there was little he and his team-mates could do to stop them. "I think we put in a good game but perhaps not good enough," he told uefa.com. "We played a good first half but they came out very strong in the second half. We were playing against a great team who in ten minutes put three goals past us, and after that the match took on a completely different tone - they killed the game off."
While Kaká's tremendous equalising volley and a thunderous free-kick from Andrea Pirlo may have been unstoppable, Valerón admits errors were made - and there will be no room for any more tonight. "We made a couple of small mistakes and they punished us, a quality team like Milan does not let you get away with the slightest mistake," he said. "It has certainly complicated matters for us in the return leg.
It's a tall order and we cannot afford to give them an inch of leeway."
In their favour, Depor can boast an enviable home record in the Champions League. They have not lost at home for more than a year and a half. Ironically, the last visitors to leave La Coruna with a victory were Milan, who served up a 4-0 thrashing on 24 September 2002.
When asked to analyse this Milan side, Valerón was quick to offer words of admiration. "
They are a great team, a class act who play great football. They play with two strikers and one attacking midfield player behind them which makes them difficult to contend with. Added to that they have some very good players right the way through, a lot of quality - it's no surprise at all that they are top of their league and still in the Champions League."
Whatever the outcome tonight, the 28-year-old Spanish international will take heart from Depor's efforts in Europe this season - notably the victory over Juventus FC in the last round. "Obviously eliminating a club like Juventus was an important step for us and something that can only encourage us for the future."
Valerón has not given up hope of a second Italian scalp just yet, though, even if the odds may be stacked against Depor. "The very least we can do is try. The atmosphere in the dressing room is really good and, as always, we'll be trying to give it our best shot. We know that it is not going to be easy but while there is a chance, we have to go out to win."
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