Soldado must command Valencia rally at PSG

Posted by Dermot Ledwith

It was just after half-time in Saturday's derby with Levante when Roberto Soldado (or Bobby Soldier, if you like a literal translation), may just have recovered the confidence he desperately needs for Valencia to overturn a 2-1 Champions League deficit at Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

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The powerful forward pounced on a speculative cross from Sofiane Feghouli to smash home a spectacular volley, and goal-of-the-season contender, to give his side a 2-1 lead.

Although the game ended a 2-2 draw, it is Valencia's slim chance of progress in the Champions League in Paris that dominates conversations this week in Spain's third city.

It has to be said Soldado is not having a poor season, having notched 13 league strikes, four in Champions plus two more in the Spanish Cup to make it 19 in total this season. Soldado actually has 20 goals counting his important winner to give Spain a 1-0 World Cup qualifier win in Georgia in September.

However he has received criticism of late, with only two goals in the last eight games, and he was as quiet as a player of his undoubtedly fiery temperament can be in the first leg with PSG in the Mestalla.

All four of his goals for Spain came in 2012, but occurred either side of his nation's Euro win in Kiev in July, after he was unluckily dropped from the final draft of the squad in favour of Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo.

Completely by chance, I found myself behind him the day after that squad was announced on a flight from Madrid to Ibiza, where he was taking his family on a clearly unplanned holiday.

That day I witnessed an unhappy professional who I did not dare disturb, obviously deep in thought about another missed opportunity. He is yet to be selected for a major championship for Spain and at 27 the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will be his best chance.

With Fernando Llorente and David Villa struggling for form and fitness, it is only his nemesis Negredo who can currently challenge him as the top Spanish scorer in La Liga.

To continue his international career, Soldado has to continually score at the highest level. While his Champions League record is very good (15 goals in three seasons for Valencia), it is games such as Wednesday's in the City of Light in which he needs to make the difference.

Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty ImagesRoberto Soldado will need to bring his customary fire to the Parc des Princes for Valencia to have a chance to advance.

With at least two goals required, Valencia have a need for their local-born striker to go that little bit further, and perhaps fulfil the potential that saw him leave his hometown for Real Madrid at the age of 15.

While he scored bags of goals in Real's youth ranks, Soldado's only chance in the first team came in 2005-06. Despite striking four times then he was never going to force Ronaldo or Raul out of the side.

His La Liga career finally took off on-loan at Osasuna and then Getafe before his beloved Valencia came calling.

At this stage of the Champions two seasons ago, Valencia went to Schalke 04 defending a 1-1 draw in the first leg. Soldado was left on the bench in an ultra-conservative attempt to qualify and only played the final 26 minutes as Schalke ran out 3-1 winners.

This time there is no other option for Los Che but to attack and he is the man they'll be looking to for goals.

As club captain and his side's most valuable asset, the timing could be right for Soldado against a talented PSG who threatened to finish the tie off very early in the first leg.

Ezequiel Lavezzi missed two good chances at 2-0 to finish Valencia, but a late Adil Rami goal gave Los Che hope that Zlatan Ibrahimovic increased moments later with a ridiculous sending-off.

Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde has steadied the ship at the club since taking over in December, and with only one defeat in ten in the league, their chances of claiming another Champions League position next term have improved greatly.

Currently a point behind Malaga in fifth, the financially stricken club could very much do with further Champions progress this season to add some valuable euros to the coffers.

With Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti out through suspension for PSG, there exists some optimism but Valencia will have to hope a number of other top players have off nights for the French.

A repeat of PSG's non-performance on Saturday at Reims where they lost 1-0 would be welcome, and the big Swede (26 goals) will be a significant miss.

Valencia will also be without Roberto Costa and Rami at the back, but Tino Costa says "the comeback is possible" while Aly Cissokho insists "in football nothing is impossible."

They will look to their last two away performances in Champions at Lille and Bate Borisov that brought four goals, none conceded and a Soldado hat-trick as an omen.

It's a big ask, but if their forward is provided with the bullets to penetrate PSG's defence, anything can happen.

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