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EUROPEAN SOCCER

Valencia’s vengeance mission

Barça hosts Spartak in first round of Champions League group matches

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Oliver Kahn saves Mauricio Pellegrino's penalty in the 2001 Champions League final, giving the German side its fourth triumph.

When Mauricio Pellegrino took the Valencia job in the summer he could not have imagined a harder start to his first season as coach; first Real Madrid away, then a trip to Barcelona, but perhaps worst of all for the Argentinian is Wednesday night’s journey to Munich (8.45 on Canal+ Liga de Campeones).

On May 23, 2001 in Milan Valencia took on Bayern Munich in what was its second consecutive Champions League final. This time round it was a much easier prospect than the year before when a Steve McManaman master class saw Los Che succumb to a 0-3 defeat against Real Madrid.

In a nervous encounter, the score finished 1-1 after both teams exchanged penalties in normal time, and following 30 minutes of extra time the match went down to the lottery of a penalty shootout. Toing and froing, it eventually came down to sudden death. Thomas Linke reassuringly — as only a German could — tucked away Bayern’s seventh spot kick of the shootout. It was now Pellegrino’s turn.

Valencia has not faced Bayern Munich since the 2001 final defeat

Having already seen fellow left footers Zlatko Zahovic and Amadeo Carboni have penalties saved by goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, the then 29-year-old attempted to double-bluff the veteran custodian, banking on the idea that the German would go to his left side, where neither of the previous left-footed penalties had gone. He didn’t. Kahn saved low to his right and Bayern was European Champion for a fourth time; its second victory in a final against Spanish opposition and one which remains the German outfit’s last Champions League success.

Eleven years on Pellegrino’s weak penalty is still the last kick of a ball between these two in Europe’s premier club soccer competition, and the manager will be keen to gain revenge.

“We go to Germany with the aim to win,” said young central midfielder Jonathon Viera, in a match that should see Roberto Soldado make his 100th appearance for Valencia, for whom Fernando Gago and long-term absentee Ever Banega are missing.

The signs are not good for the Spanish team, which has only ever come away from German soil with a victory once in eleven attempts, whereas Bayern has only ever lost one match at home to Spanish opposition, 2-3 against Deportivo La Coruña in 2002.

Die Roten beat both Villareal and Real Madrid home and away en route to reaching last season’s final, yet despite Bayern’s impressive record against Spanish sides, coach Jupp Heynckes this week stressed that “we will have to work hard and stretch ourselves to come away with a win.”

Messi: "I think that as a team we’re ready and prepared to win"

Also on Wednesday, FC Barcelona welcomes Spartak Moscow to the Camp Nou for only the second time. The previous encounter took place in the 1993/94 season — also at the group stage — when the Catalan side comfortably won 5-1 after conceding an early goal.

Newly appointed Spartak coach Unai Emery, who last season lead Valencia to a third place finish in La Liga and automatic qualification for this year’s Champions League, is seeking his first- ever victory against Barça at the 13th time of asking, having lost in all six of his previous visits to Catalonia.

Last season’s defeated semifinalist Barcelona are expected to recall both Lionel Messi and Dani Alves after they were rested from the start for Saturday’s 1-4 victory away at Getafe. David Villa is also in contention for a recall having not started a competitive match since breaking his leg last December.

Argentinean Messi this week declared that he feels the club is determined to recover from any disappointments they may have encountered last season, saying: “We didn’t win the Champions League or La Liga, which are the two most important competitions, but now I think that as a team we’re ready and prepared to win them both.”