Spanish champions Valencia will be looking to bury their European hoodoo when they take on Marseille in the UEFA Cup final on Wednesday.
Valencia lost consecutive Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001, the latter on penalties to Bayern Munich. Tonight represents an opprtunity for redemption.
“The team want to win this final for the Valencia fans who desperately want this European title,” said Valencia goalkeeper Jose Santiago Canizares.
“We hope that we can win the Champions League in the future as well.”
Opponents Marseille’s main concern in the build-up to the final, has been the fitness of leading striker Didier Drogba. The leaing scorer in European competition this season, was rated a doubtful starter but the club have confirmed he will play.
It’s a gamble but given Drogba’s form this season, one worth taking.
“He is fine and he will be involved. I hope his presence will give us the best chance to beat this Valencia team,” said Marseille coach Jose Anigo.
‘He’s feeling very well. It took us time to cure him but he will be at the final against Valencia.
“We hope he will boost our chances of winning. If he’s on the pitch, it means he’s at the very best of his ability.”
Valencia coach Rafael Benitez is aware of the threat posed by Drogba.
“Right now, what is concerning us is making sure Drogba doesn’t get a touch,” he jokedon the eve of the game.
According to Anig Valencia are a “better” and “more complete” team than previous opponents such as Inter, Liverpool and Newcastle United.
“They are not Spanish champions by accident,” he said.
“But there are some weaknesses we can exploit.”
“For me the priority is not to lose the first goal,” Anigo said, hinting at a defensive approach to tonight’s game.
Benitez 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.”
Valencia are certainly the form team. Notwithstanding Friday’s defeat to Villarreal, they have been in sparkiling form in recent months. In contrast, Marseille have suffered a domestic slump of late, having lost four of their last five domestic matches, including last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Toulouse.
Valencia must decide whether to risk starting with Pablo Aimar, who has yet to recover full sharpness after a groin injury, but who, according to Benitez,”is the kind of player who can produce something from nothing”.
“Aimar has been gradually regaining form since his injury and he is the sort of player that can unlock determined defences and if necessary we will be looking to him to perform that sort of role in the final,” Benitez added.
In his absence, Ricardo Oliveira would lead the attack with Mista, Valencia”s leading scorer this season. On the right, Miguel Angulo should start ahead of Francisco Rufete.
Valencia: Canizares; Curro Torres, Ayala, Marchena, Carboni; Albelda, Baraja, Rufete or Angulo, Vicente, Aimar or Angulo, Mista.
Marseille: Barthez; Ferreira, Beye, Hemdani, Meite, Dos Santos; Marlet, Flamini, N’Diaye, Meriem, Drogba
Referee: Pierluigi Collina