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High hopes for Kempes

Valencia CF legend Mario Kempes expects great things from the current squad.

By Graham Hunter

He is perhaps the most identifiable figure of the last 50 years of Valencia CF history - a FIFA World Cup winner and the only Los Che player to have won three club trophies in two seasons.

Crowning achievement
But now Mario Kempes, Argentina's world champion of 1978, believes that the current Valencia side are about to close in on his achievements by winning the club's first European trophy for 24 years in tonight's UEFA Cup final against Olympique de Marseille

Old triumphs
Not since they beat Arsenal FC at the Heysel stadium in Brussels in the 1979/80 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final have the men from the Mestalla won one of the major UEFA competitions - although they lifted the 1980 UEFA Super Cup a few months later and finished as runners-up in the UEFA Champions League in 1999/00 and 2000/01.

Firm favourites
Kempes is a regular television and radio commentator at the Mestalla and believes he is watching not only Spain's best side but a team which can go on to dominate Europe. "In my view Valencia are, without doubt, the favourites to lift the UEFA Cup in Gothenburg," he told uefa.com. "Clearly finals are one-off games and they always depend on starting well in order to impose yourself on the game. But I've watched Marseille and they are good but Valencia are better than them."

Defensive masters
According to Kempes, defensive play is the current side's strength. "Valencia's power is their defence but that doesn't depend on the back four," he said. "Rafa Benítez has taught them how to defend right across the team, from front to back, and that is what makes them so hard to defeat.

'Favourite expression'
"In fact, my favourite expression about them is that Valencia have the brilliant ability to take good opposition and make them play worse than normal. They are so competitive and so full of talent that you can never relax."

Gruelling campaign
After a long, gruelling campaign, culminating in winning the Primera División last week, several of Benitez's players have admitted that it has been hard to sustain a challenge on two fronts. However, Kempes is devout in his belief that Valencia will not lose their concentration and competitive edge in Gothenburg.

No complacency
"I absolutely don't believe that this team might be caught out by having relaxed too much after winning the championship," he said. "Their focus on what they want to achieve is very, very impressive and their physical power is something which has helped them cope.

Heroic effort
"I know of many Valencia fans, who not so long ago were tearing up their season tickets and who were swearing not to go back to the stadium, who are filled with enthusiasm and admiration again. There have been internal difficulties at the club this season but the group of players, under a majestic coach, have concentrated on playing simple football and winning titles by always knowing what it is to sweat for a victory."

Destiny calling
Now, destiny is calling for Kempes's old club. "Valencia are in the midst of a phenomenal era," said Kempes, who hung up his boots in April 1984. "Benítez has proved to be a maestro of the Primera División and of knockout matches - now he has to show that winning one-off matches is also in his repertoire. This team has gone higher than any Valencia side before it, now they just need to end on the high note and add a European trophy to the league title."