Valencia CF took a huge step towards a place in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup after they cruised to a 3-0 win over Servette FC in the first leg of their fourth-round tie on Tuesday.
The home side got off to the perfect start when Servette defender Hilton unluckily headed a Francisco Rufete cross past his own goalkeeper to give the Spanish club the lead. Second-half goals from Pablo Aimar and Salva Ballesta, both hugely impressive throughout, ensured a comfortable win for Valencia, who went top of the Spanish Primera División at the weekend.
Rufete, whose ball led to Hilton inadvertently putting Valencia ahead, created plenty of danger on the right flank in the first quarter, but the Servette defence managed to hold out and prevent Valencia extending their lead. In fact, the Swiss side twice went close themselves as the half drew to a close, with Yugoslavian striker Goran Obradovic shooting wide before forcing a sharp save from Santiago Cañizares.
Sparked into life
Valencia sparked back into life just before the break and looked certain to increase their lead on the stroke of half-time, but defender Christophe Jaquet managed to dispossess Salva just as he was lining up his shot. Servette striker Robert Pinho De Souza missed a good chance to level just a minute after the break and two minutes later Valencia scored the crucial goal of the game. From then on Servette were unable to challenge the Spaniards.
Exploited the gaps
Argentinian midfielder Aimar drilled home from ten metres in the 48th minute after fine work by Mista on the left and a neat flick by Salva. Valencia then exploited the gaps as the Swiss side attempted to push forward in search of an away goal and Salva powered in a header from close range to make it 3-0 after a fine cross from winger Kily González on 59 minutes.
‘A great result’
Rafael Benítez's side could have won even more comfortably, but Rufete and substitute John Carew were unable to convert two late chances. Despite Valencia's late profligacy, Benítez was delighted with his side's showing. "It is a great result for us but Servette are a team that have obtained good results in the UEFA Cup and cannot be underestimated, we have to be careful. With this advantage, we will go to Switzerland in good shape but we will have to be mindful of an early goal."
Lucien Favre, the Servette coach, was realistic enough to admit that his side face a mountainous task to overturn a three-goal deficit at their Charmilles stadium. "We came to Spain to score," he said, "but Valencia were very strong. Valencia are a team with very good players, as they showed after they scored their second goal, and it will be very difficult to eliminate them."