Valencia CF shrugged off an early red card for Seydou Keita to take a big step towards the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals with a 3-0 triumph at PFC Ludogorets Razgrad.
The 2004 UEFA Cup winners were sent on their way to a fifth successive away victory in this season's competition when Antonio Barragán struck after five minutes, though it took a Diego Alves penalty save from Roman Bezjak to preserve their lead after Keita's 24th-minute dismissal. Despite their numerical inferiority, Fede Cartabia doubled the advantage on 33 minutes and Philippe Senderos's second-half header leaves Ludogorets, who had Juninho Quixadá sent off ten minutes from time for a push on João Pereira, needing a miracle in Spain next week.
Ludogorets's first UEFA Europa League campaign has won them plenty of friends in Bulgaria and the National Stadium in Sofia – some 400km from their home in Razgrad – was fully sold out for this round of 16 first leg. An eagle circled the pitch before kick-off but the hosts, hitherto unbeaten in the competition, were soon brought crashing to earth.
Valencia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi fielded full-back Barragán on the right wing to add defensive cover, yet the ploy yielded the opening goal. Eduardo Vargas's free-kick from the left was deflected over to the right edge of the box where Barragán thumped a low shot past Vladislav Stoyanov from 20 metres.
Paco Alcácer fired over when clear in the area before Stoicho Stoev's men had a golden opportunity to equalise. Keita's push on Bezjak as the home forward shaped to shoot earned the Valencia man a red card and Ludogorets a spot kick but Bezjak, their six-goal leading scorer in Europe, failed to profit. Ludogorets's luck was out again when Virgil Misidjan's swerving effort came back off the far post and instead, three minutes later, they fell further behind. Cartabia swivelled on to Alcácer's dinked ball over the home defence and swept a volley beyond Stoyanov.
Ludogorets kept coming but their frustrations were compounded when Misidjan and Bezjak both blazed attempts off target and, by the hour, Valencia's grip was tighter still. From a Cartabia corner, Jérémy Mathieu flicked the ball on to Vargas who, in turn, headed it back for Senderos to nod over the line.