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By Lawrence Leenhardt in Bordeaux
FC Girondins de Bordeaux face the defining moment of their season as they prepare to play Valencia CF in the first leg of their UEFA Cup quarter-final at the Stade Chaban-Delmas.
Michel Pavon's side currently lie eleventh in Ligue 1 and, with only seven league games left, hopes are fading of a UEFA Cup place for next season. Having been knocked out of both domestic cup competitions, Bordeaux's campaign rests on overturning the odds against Valencia.
Pavon is well aware of the size of the task at hand, having been part of the midfield when Bordeaux played Valencia in the UEFA Champions League in 1999/00. "We conceded seven goals in two games," the coach remembered ruefully. "But my current players don't have those bad memories. Valencia are the strongest team in the quarter-finals and, over the course of a full league programme, they would be too good for us. But with just two games, anything can happen."
Bordeaux's French international goalkeeper Ulrich Ramé is another with bad memories of the Spanish side, having also been in the team which was systematically dismantled four years ago. "Valencia's personnel has changed but they remain a very strong side," he said. "They are a more complete team now, in every area, and are on a par with Real Madrid [CF]."
The home side's task has been made more difficult by the absence of striker Jean-Claude Darcheville, ruled out after suffering a recurrence of an injury to his right knee. In his place, 20-year-old Marouane Chamakh will lead the attack with Spanish pair Albert Celades and Albert Riera offering close support from midfield. Pascal Feindouno has recovered from an abdominal injury, while Hervé Alicarte and Deivid De Souze are available again after injury.
Plea for support
Defender Marco Caneira acknowledged the importance of the game and urged the Bordeaux public to get behind the team. "I would ask people to come to the stadium and support us against Valencia," he said. "
It would be great to see the ground full."
Valencia travel to Bordeaux with the tag of favourites but without two key players in Vicente Rodríguez and Miguel Angulo. Both midfield players were rated doubtful for the game, and have now succumbed to their respective ailments - an ankle strain and bronchitis. They join Pablo Aimar (groin), defender Fábio Aurélio and goalkeeper Andrés Palop on the sidelines. Benítez is expected to draft in strike pair Néstor Canobbio and Ricardo Oliveira to assume attacking roles while Mohamed Sissoko has been recalled in midfield.
For all the talk in the French press about Valencia being the likely winners, the Spanish team's captain David Albelda insisted that "quality opponents" stood between them and the semi-finals. "
Bordeaux are a quality team with young players, and the important thing will be to avoid conceding a goal. It won't be easy but at least we have the advantage of playing the second leg at home." Valencia have already beaten AIK Solna, Maccabi Haifa FC, Besiktas JK and Gençlerbirligi SK in the competition.
History in the making
Coach Rafael Benítez is expected to make several changes to the side that defeated Real Murcia CF 2-0 last Sunday to keep Valencia in second place in the Primera División, a point behind Madrid. Benítez would certainly be satisfied with a repeat of his club's last visit to Bordeaux, a 4-1 Champions League victory. A similar result would leave Valencia on the threshold of their first UEFA Cup semi-final in 40 years.
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