Valencia CF 0-1 Internazionale CF (Inter win 2-1 on aggregate)
Former Valencia CF coach Héctor Cúper got the better of his former club as Internazionale FC beat the Spanish side 1-0, and 2-1 on aggregate, to progress to the last four of the UEFA Cup in a pulsating quarter-final second-leg tie.
Proud record ends
The performance and the result was bordering on the miraculous as Valencia had previously been unbeaten at the Mestalla stadium in Europe for 34 games, a record stretching back nearly ten years to a defeat by SSC Napoli, another Italian side.
Toldo sent off
Three-time winners Inter took the lead through Nicola Ventola as early as the second minute, but then had to survive unrelenting Valencia pressure for the rest of the game. In a thrilling finale, Francesco Toldo, the Inter goalkeeper, was sent off for a second yellow card for time wasting. By that time Cúper had used all his substitutes so the former Valencia player Francisco Farinós - probably the smallest player on the pitch - went in goal for the game's closing minutes. Valencia renewed their siege on the Inter goal, but the joint Italian league leaders managed to hold firm.
It was an unfortunate end for Toldo who, in a performance to rival his heroics for the Italian national side against the Netherlands in the semi-finals of EURO 2000™, thwarted Valencia time and time again. The combination of the former AC Fiorentina keeper's height, feet, hands and agility proved an impassable object as Valencia searched for the equalising goal. In particular his instinctive save from Mista's wonderful volley will live long in the memory.
After the first leg there had been suggestions that Inter were more concerned with the chase for the Scudetto than reaching the UEFA Cup final, which will be played in Rotterdam on 8 May. But that did not look the case tonight as Inter mounted a superb rearguard action, led by Ivan Cordoba, that combined concentration and resilience with a smattering of good fortune. No more so than when Ventola appeared to use his hands in the area to block Fabio Aurelio's flighted free-kick. There was nothing lucky about Inter's goal, however, Ventola running on to Mohamed Kallon's through-ball before delicately chipping Santiago Cañizares.
Three wonderful saves
Nonetheless, Valencia could count themselves desperately unlucky. Vicente Rodríguez and Pablo Aimar combined wonderfully throughout the game and never tired in their search for that elusive goal. Their misfortune was no better illustrated than midway through the second period when in the space of 30 seconds Toldo made three saves from Francesco Rufete, Aimar and Vicente. Mista - a second-half substitute - also bundled the ball into the Inter net but his effort was ruled offside. Valencia can take credit from participating in a wonderful game of football, but that will be small consolation to them.
"Valencia were unfortunate not to win," Cúper said. "We only had three chances in the whole game and Valencia dominated the rest. "I'm very happy with the result but I have to admit we had the run of luck."
'So little reward'
His opposite number was also of the opinon that his side deserved to win. "We did so much but had so little reward," Rafael Benítez said. "We knew that Inter would work hard and try to take a chance. Their goal came too early. The reading of the game is very easy. We were superior in almost everything. It was luck more than anything but sometimes that happens in football."
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