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Valencia seek to avoid burn-out

Published: Tuesday 18 March 2003, 20.50CET
Valencia CF will poop the party of the year unless they can beat Arsenal FC in Group B.

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Published: Tuesday 18 March 2003, 20.50CET

Valencia seek to avoid burn-out

Valencia CF will poop the party of the year unless they can beat Arsenal FC in Group B.

By Carlos Urrutia

The biggest night of the year in Valencia also sees the most important match of the season for Spanish champions and local heroes Valencia CF.

Win or bust
Rafael Benítez's men go into Wednesday's UEFA Champions League Group B game against Arsenal FC needing a win to progress from the second group stage to the quarter-finals.

Up in smoke
The Matchday 12 encounter coincides with the climax to Spain's noisiest fiesta, Las Fallas - a week-long festival of fire and firecrackers which culminates with the burning of huge, papier-mâché effigies. The hope for Benítez and his players is that Valencia's European ambitions don't also go up in smoke.

Attack, attack, attack
"I am absolutely convinced we are going to beat Arsenal and reach the last eight," the coach said. "It is true we need the victory, but it is in our hands. The Valencia we will see on Wednesday will be attack-minded, even though we know how good our opponents are."

Weekend reverses
Valencia and Arsenal resembled cardboard cut-outs of their formidable, title-winning selves when going down to weekend defeats at Athletic Club Bilbao and Blackburn Rovers FC. Valencia's reverse in Bilbao was particularly costly, leaving them eight points off the lead in the Primera División.

'Optimism intact'
Moreover, a knee injury sustained by Kily González at San Mamés means Benítez will be without the Argentinian midfield player as well as the suspended Rubén Baraja against Arsène Wenger and company. Vicente Rodríguez is Kily's likely deputy, but Valencia have no natural substitute for Baraja and could field an extra attacker in his place. "The team," said Benítez, "have an attacking mentality, they want to do what they do best. Their optimism remains intact."

History lessons
The clubs' meeting at Highbury in December ended in stalemate - one of six Group B draws in ten matches. The historical precedents, however, favour the Spanish side. Valencia knocked out Arsenal on the Premiership leaders' only appearance in the quarter-finals in 2000/01 and also beat the Londoners in the 1980 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final.

Injury worries
Injuries could also count against the visitors. Goalkeeper David Seaman has joined defenders Martin Keown, Ashley Cole and Oleg Luzhny on the injured list, while Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell are both doubtful. Wenger says Campbell has a "40 per cent" chance of playing, with his captain's prospects rated as only "slightly better" by the manager. Striker Dennis Bergkamp, meanwhile, has not travelled due to a fear of flying.

'A better side'
Vieira said: "It's a big test for us but the kind of game everyone wants to play in. We know what we have to do and we feel we're strong enough to go through. We are a better side than when we played them last time. We have improved, learned a lot and we are going there to win the game."

Home advantage
Arsenal have the advantage of knowing a draw will be enough to take them through. Valencia, though, have the backing of a 48,000 crowd. "We have a huge advantage with the crowd at our place, and they have to get behind us," Benítez said. Whether it will be fiesta time inside the Mestalla on Wednesday night remains to be seen, however.

Last updated: 19/03/03 20.51CET