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Valencia CF and FC Schalke 04 made their traditional starts to the UEFA Champions League group stage as the Spanish side recorded a 1-0 victory at the Arena AufSchalke.
Valencia had won their opening match at this juncture in their five previous campaigns, while the German team had suffered defeat on both occasions they had reached this stage, without scoring a goal. Schalke registered an unwanted hat-trick as David Villa coolly scored the game's only goal on 63 minutes.
Cat and mouse
Schalke had begun in the ascendancy whereas Valencia seemed content to sit back, deal with the early crosses and long throw-ins that were being delivered into their penalty area, and then attack on the break. It was as home coach Mirko Slomka had predicted before the game, which he watched from the comfort of the executive boxes as he served a one-match touchline ban. The Bundesliga side had to wait until the 20th minute to truly worry Santiago Cañizares, a deep free-kick from Christian Pander being headed back across goal by Kevin Kuranyi only for Gerald Asamoah to nod over from a narrow angle.
Valencia had sprung a pre-match selection surprise, lining up with Iván Helguera in central defence with Carlos Marchena pushed into an unaccustomed midfield role, and they were forced to work hard as the contest opened up before the half-hour. Kuranyi went close with a difficult header from distance, before firing centimetres wide with an excellent chance after Asamoah had nodded a long throw-in into his path. The Primera División outfit responded with their first shots on Manuel Neuer's goal, but the keeper dealt easily with Fernando Morientes's flick and an effort from the lively Villa.
Despite having to leave his half-time team talk to goalkeeping coach Oliver Reck, Slomka was busy scribbling notes when Pander's free-kick was routinely saved by Cañizares, before a rising drive from Marchena soared just over Neuer's goal. Valencia showed more attacking intent as the second half got under way yet the first attempt again came from Schalke and Asamoah – the forward forcing Cañizares to tip over his swerving cross. The Valencia No1 spilled the resulting corner and the initiative seemed to be with the Royal Blues as they earned a series of free-kicks during a fractious spell.
However, despite reasonable delivery into the box from Pander, they could not find a telling header and Mesut Özil was introduced just after the hour as Schalke sought more creativity. Instead Valencia found it almost immediately, from the unlikely boot of Luis Miguel. His long pass over the top was seized upon by Villa and the Spain striker clipped the ball away from Neuer before sliding it into the net. Schalke responded well, almost equalising on 66 minutes when Halil Altıntop burst through but chose to square the ball rather than shoot, meaning the opportunity was wasted. Heiko Westermann and Peter Løvenkrands were also profligate as Valencia held on.
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