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It is a game that could have graced the UEFA Cup final itself and there is plenty surrounding the clash between Internazionale FC and Valencia CF on Thursday to heighten expectation that the quarter-final will be a memorable affair.
The Spanish club come face to face with the coach who led them to successive UEFA Champions League finals, Héctor Cúper, and the venue for the game just happens to be the same stadium that brought Valencia a second disappointment at the climax of Europe's premier club competition.
It was at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium where Valencia tasted bitter defeat in 2001 as FC Bayern München took the trophy in a penalty shoot-out. Goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares said: "We return without sadness and conscious about what we did."
Valencia know only too well that Cúper does not make a habit of losing home games in Europe. In 26 home matches (with RCD Mallorca, Valencia and Inter), he has recorded 20 wins and six draws.
On the eve of the game the Argentinian spoke of how much he had enjoyed his two years in Valencia. "I have very good memories and made a lot of friends," he said. "I love the happiness the people have in Valencia and furthermore I love paella, I still have it at home regularly. The weather is superb with sun 365 days a year. It is a great place to live."
'Difficult to win'
Amedeo Carboni spoke for the Valencia players when he said: "It is a very special match and for Cúper also. We have lived two extraordinary years. We managed some great results. For sure Inter-Valencia could have been an extraordinary final because both teams are big in Europe. We know it will be very difficult to win, but Inter will also think that."
Inter's former Valencia midfield player Francisco Javier Farinos looks likely to miss out through injury while Cristiano Zanetti is suspended. Ronaldo has returned to Italy after spending time in Brazil for treatment and his mood has been boosted by his recall to the national squad for the friendly against Yugoslavia on 27 March following a two-year absence.
Valencia, who have slipped up on the three previous occasions they have reached the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, are the current leaders of the Primera División, while only goal difference prevents Inter from occupying a similar position in Italy. Valencia coach Rafael Benítez is without Adrian Ilie and midfielder Ruben Baraja through injury while doubts surround Kily González, David Albelda and Vicente Rodríguez.
Last weekend Valencia moved back to the top of the table with a 2-0 win against Sevilla FC. Juan Sánchez opened the home side's account and Miguel Angulo added the second before being sent off near the end. At the same time Inter ensured they remained one point ahead of Juventus FC in the chase for the Serie A title when Clarence Seedorf scored with a last-minute effort from long range to earn his team a 2-2 draw.
'We always go out to win'
Valencia midfielder Gonzalo de los Santos is confident that his side has the game to end Inter's attempts to win the competition for the fifth time. "We will try to control the game and impose our speed," he said. "We always go out to win our matches, that's what we will try to do in the San Siro. One of the keys will be to play face to face without being scared. Both teams are very similar and a lot will depend on tactics and physical strength."
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