By Graham Hunter at the Mestalla
FC Internazionale Milano claimed a stunning victory at Valencia CF, the third time in four seasons the Nerazzuri have tasted success at this stadium.
Two devastating goals in four minutes after half-time, from Dejan Stankovic and Christian Vieri, did the real damage despite a brilliant goal from Pablo Aimar which cut the advantage. Roberto Mancini's side never let go their stranglehold, however, and Andy van der Meyde, Adriano and Julio Cruz struck to keep up Inter's perfect Group G record.
The game erupted into action immediately with no time wasted on probing for openings. Miguel Angulo and Juan Sebastián Verón were both booked within the first few minutes and the flow of play exactly followed the pattern predicted by opposing coaches Claudio Ranieri and Mancini.
Inter had not only come to win, the Italian side clearly arrived at the Mestalla believing that Valencia were in a weakened state in terms of confidence and personnel. Mista and Vicente Rodríguez had failed to make late recoveries, and Valencia also had to trust the improvised defensive pairing of Marco Caneira and David Navarro.
While Inter's 4-1-3-2 formation allowed depth in defence it also enabled Mancini's team to push the two full-backs into midfield and crowd the most creative area of Valencia's team. Pablo Aimar, Francisco Rufete and Angulo were all instantly harassed when they received the ball and the work-rate of Dejan Stankovic and Emre Belözoglu was admirable.
If the idea was to test Valencia's form and confidence it seemed to be working. Inter made almost all the most threatening play of the first half and whenever the ball reached Adriano there were monumental tussles between the Brazilian, Navarro and Caneira.
For all that, Valencia might have scored first when Marco Di Vaio sent in a delicately sliced shot, parried by 37-year-old goalkeeper Alberto Fontana. Inter were dominant, though, and Emre found Adriano, whose side-foot shot ruffled the outside of the net. Four minutes later Adriano found Emre, who beat Navarro but not goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares.
The goals to match Inter's domination arrived with blistering speed once the second half started, and arrived like twins. First Giuseppe Favalli, the full-back playing like a winger, struck a viciously deflected cross which dropped for Stankovic to float a header over Cañizares.
Valencia still appeared to be suffering from shock when an Adriano pass was sliced by Curro Torres to Christian Vieri, who volleyed left-footed into the corner of the net. This all-out attack was supplemented at the other end by Fontana's wonderful stretching save from Di Vaio's flicked header.
Even in the face of such stunning goals, however, the sublime moment of the night came from Adriano in a raid on the Valencia penalty box which came to nothing. Bursting past Cañizares he swivelled 180 degrees on the ball with one foot while instantly tapping the ball through Navarro's legs with the other. His shot from an acute angle was wide but the skill was that of a genius.
Before the end of a scintillating game Stankovic missed a stunning chance and Di Vaio hit the post before squaring for Aimar's 73rd-minute goal. But Adriano's assist, Amedeo Carboni's error and then substitute Van der Meyde's outstretched foot made it 3-1, ending the game as a contest, before the Brazilian hammered the fourth and left the field to an ovation from the gracious home fans when being replaced by Cruz - who struck in added time.