Champions League - Valencia keep hopes alive
Valencia kept their Champions League dream alive with a crucial 3-1 win over Group E rivals Bayer Leverkusen at the Mestalla.
The Spaniards are now just a point behind the second-placed Germans and three behind group leaders Chelsea, with two games to play.
The hosts took the lead with the second fastest goal in Champions League history, when Jonas punished a poor clearance from Leverkusen goalkeeper Leno after just 12 seconds.
The away side recovered from their poor start and Stefan Kiessling levelled the scores before half-time with a well taken header.
As the home support grew tense, Valencia captain Roberto Soldado struck to give his side a precious second half lead.
A controversial decision from the linesman robbed Andre Schuerrle of a legitimate equaliser, before Adil Rami sealed victory with a header.
On a must-win night for Valencia, they benefited from a shocking mistake from the visitors’ young goalkeeper.
Leno drove a back pass into the grateful feet of Jonas, but there was still work to do. Unfortunately for the culprit, it was a job the Brazilian made look easy with brutal precision. After taking the sting out of the clearance with a deft first touch, he curled the ball beyond the reach of Leno and into the bottom left hand corner.
With their nerves eased and the guests on the back foot, Valencia took control of the game, dominating possession and the territorial battle.
But Robin Dutt’s men showed steely resilience to weather the home side’s early storm and gradually imposed themselves on the contest.
It took a fantastic save from Diego Alvez in the Valencia goal to preserve the hosts’ lead. Omer Toprak rose above a cluster of bodies to direct a header towards the bottom right hand corner, but Alvez managed to fling his body to his left and claw the ball out.
The former Chelsea player, wearing a protective mask to protect a broken nose, crumbled under a challenge from the home side’s goalkeeper and appealed for a penalty. His pleas were greeted with a yellow card for diving.
On the 30 minute mark, Leverkusen were level. Ballack was afforded the freedom of the left wing, giving him time to clip a perfectly measured cross into the box for Kiessling to head his team level.
As the half drew to a close the guests grew in confidence and almost took the lead when Schuerrle was allowed to turn on the edge of the box and take aim from 20 yards. His right foot shot was tipped over by an outstretched Alvez.
Impatience and frustration infected Valencia’s play and the Mestalla faithful were quick to express their discontentment.
An organised and disciplined display from the Germans worked brilliantly at cutting off the Spanish side’s options and breaking up the play.
When it seemed a lunar eclipse was more likely than a goal, Emery’s men struck. French left-back Jeremy Mathieu galloped down the left wing and steered the ball into the near post, where Soldado nipped in front of his marker and deftly flicked the ball through the grasp of Leno.
Had it not been for a terrible decision by the linesman, Leverkusen would have been level moments later.
Schuerrle timed his run to perfection, outmuscled his marker and guided the ball past Alvez, but the referee’s assistant flagged for offside.
To add insult to injury Valencia went up the other end and scored a third. Rami climbed above Lars Bender to head Alberto Costa’s corner past Leno and give his team a vital victory.