Valencia a giant step closer to Champions League
Los Che have one foot in main draw, but there's some way to go before they can match the big guns
PLAY-OFF, 1ST LEG
(Rodrigo 4, Daniel Parejo 59, Sofiane Feghouli 86)
(Mario Pasalic 49)
On a day Nicolas Otamendi finalised his move to Manchester City, Valencia celebrated wild into the night.
Not even the sale of one of their biggest assets and arguably the best defender in the Spanish La Liga could ruin their mood.
With a 3-1 win over French Ligue 1 outfit Monaco in the first leg of their Champions League play-off qualifier yesterday morning (Singapore time), they took one giant step towards the tournament proper.
Rodrigo got the party at the Mestalla Stadium started early, in the fourth minute, with a close-range finish.
Monaco's Mario Pasalic drew the visitors level shortly after the break, before Daniel Parejo and Sofiane Feghouli notched one goal apiece to ensure the Spanish club take a comfortable lead into next week's return leg.
Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim dreamt of seeing Valencia spar with Europe's elite when he acquired a 70.4 per cent stake at the club last year. He is halfway there now.
Few would dare bet against them making the group stages of a competition they last took part in during the 2012/13 season.
There is some way to go, however, before Los Che are ready for a genuine assault on club football's greatest prize.
In what was largely an even contest, Nuno Espirito Santo's side at times rode their luck.
Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim feels that the defeat was unfair, and he had every right to feel hard done-by.
Bernardo Silva saw a first-half effort tipped onto the post by Valencia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan, but what rankled Jardim was a second-half penalty shout that referee Mark Clattenburg ignored.
So aggrieved were Monaco, that they posted on Twitter a photo of Anthony Martial's left leg being wrapped around by Jose Luis Gaya's in the penalty box, with a goal-line referee looking on barely two metres away.
It also helped the hosts that young Australian goalkeeper Ryan was in inspired form.
The defence, missing the influential Otamendi, struggled to contain their nippy opponents, who in fact made more goal attempts - 13 to Valencia's 10.
While Valencia were dealt an unkind draw in the form of Monaco, bigger guns will await them further down the road, if they stave off Monaco, that is.
Getting back to the top - they were Champions League runners-up in 2000 and 2001 - is a slow and painful process, and much more complicated than it once was, following the introduction of the Uefa Financial Fair Play Regulations.
Every morsel of progress unearths even more challenges.
Keeping their top assets away from the super clubs gets harder the better they become, as Otamendi's inevitable move proved.
This is why the club's priority on value and youth in their transfer policy is a sound one.
The sale of Otamendi, widely believed to be in the region of £28.5 million ($62.7m), represented shrewd business.
With an average squad age of just over 24, Valencia have one of the youngest teams in Spain.
The likes of Rodrigo, Andre Gomes, Shkodran Mustafi and goalkeeper Ryan - all aged 24 and below - are expected to get even better.
Valencia are in good hands.
Just don't expect overnight success.
MISSION IN MONACO
We will go to Monaco to compete. We know what awaits us and that nothing is final. There are no favourites in football and nothing is definitive.
- Valencia coach Nuno Espirito Santo
We have to go to Monaco to try to win again. We have an advantage, but by no means is it a done deal.
- Valencia midfielder Daniel Parejo