Goals from Marco Di Vaio and Pablo Aimar gave Valencia CF a convincing 2-0 victory at home against FC Steaua Bucuresti in the first leg of this UEFA Cup Round of 32 tie.
Both the goals came in a 14-minute spell either side of half-time, with Italian international striker Di Vaio breaking the deadlock and Argentinian playmaker Aimar doubling the Spanish champions' lead seven minutes into the second period.
The bitterly cold conditions at the Mestalla did not bode well for either team but Valencia were straight on the attack with Mista and Marco Caneira flashing headers centimetres past the target. Moments later, home goalkeeper Andrés Palop collided with Daniel Oprita but play was waved on.
However, in attack, Valencia's Di Vaio and the recently-returned Mista struggled to capitalise on their opening chances. The visiting side, by contrast, looked threatening on the counterattack - Cristian Ciocoiu was left free in front of goal on 15 minutes but Palop was quick to race out and reduce the angle on the Romanian forward.
Decisive Di Vaio
The deadlock was finally broken on 38 minutes. Caneira was first to Stefano Fiore's corner, flicking on to an unmarked Di Vaio to stab the ball in on 38 minutes. Further unsuccessful efforts from Aimar and Fiore brought the opening 45 minutes to a close.
Valencia opened up a two-goal cushion seven minutes after the interval in spectacular style. Aimar teed up a free-kick on the edge of the area then delightfully curled the ball over Steaua's wall and inside the post. The Argentinian international orchestrated play from the right, continually feeding frontrunners Di Vaio and Rubén Baraja but again, the finishing touches were missing.
At the other end, Palop vindicated his inclusion in the side ahead of first-team regular Santiago Cañizares by thwarting any Steaua advance. Andrei Cristea and Mirel Radoi offered the most signs of danger with a handful of openings between them, but by then, Valencia had the game firmly under control.