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Gothenburg showpiece draws near

Sweden's second city stages the UEFA Cup final as Spanish champions Valencia CF take on Olympique de Marseille.

By Simon Hart in Gothenburg

The cool wind here in Gothenburg might have provided an unseasonal chill for the players of Valencia CF and Olympique de Marseille, but the name dominating the build-up to their UEFA Cup final meeting was anything but a surprise.

Drogba concern
This name was Didier Drogba, scorer of eleven goals in 15 European ties for Marseille this season. As Valencia coach Rafael Benítez joked in his press conference on Tuesday: "Right now, what is concerning us is making sure Drogba doesn't get a touch."

'Best chance'
That Drogba does get a touch has been the main question in the Marseille camp following his hip injury against AS Monaco FC on 9 May. Drogba has not played since but he trained in the Ullevi stadium on the eve of the game and his coach, José Anigo, said: "He is fine and he will be involved. I hope his presence will give us the best chance to beat this Valencia team."

Key to victory
Anigo assured reporters that Drogba would only play if "he is 100 per cent" yet - while Marseille did win their quarter-final visit to FC Internazionale without the Ivory Coast striker - there is no doubting his importance against a Valencia defence which has conceded just five goals in 12 ties.

'More complete' opponents
Valencia, Anigo claimed, are a "better" and "more complete" team than previous opponents such as Inter, Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC. "They are not Spanish champions by accident," he said. "But there are some weaknesses we can exploit."

No goal rush
He did not say what these weaknesses were but hinted that those expecting another goal rush - and the last three UEFA Cup finals have produced 19 goals - may be disappointed. "For me the priority is not to lose the first goal," Anigo said.

Making the play
Benítez countered: "We will be concentrating on our game - it's Marseille who have the reputation for playing on the counterattack and if we have to be the ones to make the play then that is what we will do."

Form team
The formbook favours Valencia, twice winners of this tournament's predecessor, the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, in the Sixties. Their 14-match unbeaten run in all competitions only ended last Friday when a weakened lineup lost at Villarreal CF, the team they defeated to get to Gothenburg.

Final hope
Marseille, on the other hand, sit seventh in France's Ligue 1, having lost four of their last five domestic matches, including last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Toulouse FC. However, anything can happen in a final, hence Benítez's observation: "I just hope that on Wednesday we see a similar Valencia to the one that has played so well since the start of the season."

Aimar doubt
Benítez must decide whether to risk starting with Pablo Aimar, who has yet to recover full sharpness after a groin injury, but "is the kind of player who can produce something from nothing". In his absence, Ricardo Oliveira would lead the attack with Mista, Valencia's four-goal leading scorer in the competition. On the right flank, Miguel Angulo should get the nod ahead of Francisco Rufete.

European tradition
Some 11,000 supporters from each club are expected in Sweden's second city where Valencia, beaten finalists in the UEFA Champions League in 2000 and 2001, are chasing a first European trophy since lifting the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1980. Marseille - who as the designated away team will wear grey - were Champions League winners in 1993, but more recently lost the UEFA Cup final to Parma AC in 1999.

Golden oldie
Indeed no French team has won this competition and should that record continue, Valencia full-back Amedeo Carboni will become the oldest player to win a European club competition, at 39 years and 45 days. But first the Italian and his team-mates must stop that man Drogba, something no European opponent has managed this season.