By Graham Hunter at the Mestalla
Valencia CF will have to defend the UEFA Cup they won last season after losing 2-0 to Werder Bremen at the Mestalla to exit this season's UEFA Champions League. The Spanish champions fought hard in front of a passionate crowd, and hit the bar in the second half from a Marco Di Vaio volley, but two late goals from substitute Nelson Valdez killed the game off for Claudio Ranieri's side.
Despite the fact Ranieri's team had been regaining form prior to this match and were able to field familiar names like Mista, Pablo Aimar and Miguel Ángel Angulo it was clear that, as Ranieri had predicted, Bremen were the more smoothly oiled machine.
Klasnic on bench
Valencia were experimenting with yet another formation, 4-1-3-1-1, while Thomas Schaaf's side had the luxury of keeping their normal system while also leaving striker Ivan Klasnic on the bench because Angelos Charisteas and Miroslav Klose had scored five goals between them at the weekend.
The difficulty with Ranieri's tactical choice was that it left Bremen's holding midfielder, Fabian Ernst, free to push forward. As the wide players dragged Rubén Baraja and Xisco Muñoz away from the middle of the pitch, Ernst and attacking midfielder Johan Micoud caused havoc. Yet despite looking unbalanced - with Carlos Marchena in midfield in place of the injured David Albelda - during the first half, Valencia had much of the ball and made some decent openings and it took two fantastic tackles to prevent the Spanish side going ahead.
One scintillating passing movement between Aimar and Baraja put Mista in position to shoot from eight metres out but Bremen captain Frank Baumann timed his diving block to perfection. Then Baraja's pass opened up a path for Aimar in the penalty box but he cut the ball back instead of shooting and this time an exceptional block from Paul Stalteri stole the chance.
Bremen went close to scoring themselves in the 28th minute when Micoud, running free on to Ernst's pass, hammered a left-foot shot which Santiago Cañizares parried over the bar. Then from the corner the goalkeeper needed to dive and clasp Baumann's header - but did so without drama.
Drama followed, however, immediately the second half started. Mista's rustiness was cruelly exposed when an Aimar shot deflected beyond Bremen goalkeeper Andreas Reinke to the back post but with a free chance to score the striker nodded wide. Yet the German champions returned the compliment within minutes after Klose wriggled free of his marker and dived at Micoud's perfectly weighted corner only to miss the ball completely.
Ranieri looked to seize the initiative, albeit riskily, by throwing on Vicente Rodríguez, Di Vaio and Bernardo Corradi for Xisco, Aimar and Mista. Within moments it almost paid dividends when Corradi's headed flick was volleyed against the crossbar by Di Vaio in the 67th minute. Then something approaching disaster struck when with ten minutes left Vicente's brilliant cross was headed off the head of Di Vaio by team-mate David Navarro as the Italian was about to score into an empty net.
Heartbreak followed when Valérien Ismaël's long ball was missed by Emiliano Moretti and Valdez rounded Cañizares to score. Sadly, chaos ruled at the end. Angulo received a red card for his bad foul on the goalscorer and then a fight broke out during which both Ismaël and Vicente traded blows - but were only booked. After the free-kick was finally taken, Tim Borowski crossed for Valdez to score his second.