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Valencia revival frustrates Inter

FC Internazionale Milano 2-2 Valencia CF
The Spanish side twice came from behind to deny Inter and take the initiative in the first knockout round tie.

Valencia CF claimed two priceless away goals after coming from behind twice to frustrate FC Internazionale Milano in the first leg of their first knockout round tie.

Inter had led in both halves of an engaging encounter at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, but the strikes from midfielders Esteban Cambiasso and Maicon were nullified by long-range efforts from David Villa and David Silva as Valencia refused to concede defeat.

Home pressure
Inter's fans may have been reduced in number but that only served to ramp up the volume in the Curva Nord and the home side responded by carving out some fine early opportunities. Their first chance came as a result of a mistake by Santiago Cañizares, whose attempted clearance rebounded off Zlatan Ibrahimović and looped back over his head towards goal. Roberto Ayala was on hand to spare his blushes with a crucial clearance.

From the ensuing throw-in, Maicon's curling cross was met by a glancing header from Ibrahimović but this time it was the post and then Raúl Albiol that came to the Spanish goalkeeper's rescue. Inter, dominant throughout the first half, next tried their luck from distance through Javier Zanetti and Hernán Crespo, who were both denied by Cañizares. Yet when it came, the opening goal was scored from close range.

Cambiasso header
Along with Zanetti and Cambiasso, Luís Figo was justifying his selection with an excellent performance and, after luring David Albelda into a foul on the right flank on 29 minutes, the 34-year-old delivered a curling free-kick which was touched goalwards by Ibrahimović. Cañizares made a fine reaction save but the reflexes of Cambiasso were even quicker as he stooped to head in the rebound.

Close calls
Valencia, seemingly affected by an injury-depleted squad, were largely reduced to chasing shadows although Villa almost equalised in the 44th minute when he drove wide of the far post from 15 metres after flicking the ball over Iván Córdoba. That would have been harsh on the hosts, who should have doubled their lead a minute earlier when Crespo dived headlong to send Dejan Stanković's centre narrowly wide.

Villa reply
The second half continued in the same vein as Figo squandered two openings, first finding his shot blocked by Albiol following another sweeping Nerazzurri move, then failing to make clean contact with an angled attempt from ten metres. Valencia barely threatened but, against the run of play, pulled themselves level on 64 minutes when Villa unleashed a venomous strike. The visitors were awarded a free-kick 30 metres from goal and the Spanish international stepped up to beat Júlio César for pace and accuracy.

Back in front
Valencia's tails were up and they began to pass the ball around with confidence but with a quarter of an hour remaining, they conceded again. Maicon, excellent all night, set off on another foraging right-wing run, exchanged passes with substitute Julio Cruz and sidefooted the ball in from six metres for a goal his selfless industry merited.

Vital strike
The Primera División team were not done yet, though. They grabbed a lifeline four minutes from time when Silva volleyed in from the edge of the area following a half-cleared corner to secure a second away goal and leave the tie weighted in Valencia's favour for the return leg on 6 March.