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Rami throws Valencia lifeline as Ibrahimovic sees red

PSG striker banned for return leg after 2-1 win for visitors at Mestalla

Italian referee Paolo Tagliavento gives Zlatan Ibrahimovic his marching orders in Mestalla.
Italian referee Paolo Tagliavento gives Zlatan Ibrahimovic his marching orders in Mestalla. Juan Carlos Cárdenas (EFE)

With 90 minutes on the clock at Mestalla on Tuesday night, Valencia had one foot outside the Champions League. Trailing by two goals to nil against an organized, swift but, fortunately for the home side, not utterly ruthless Paris Saint-Germain, there was little cheer in the venerable stadium as disgruntled orange-shirted observers began to file out. The cheer they will have heard erupt from the wrong side of the stadium followed Adil Rami's headed goal, from a free-kick delivery by Tino Costa, to halve the deficit.

The next cheer was louder still; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a pantomime villain all evening as he harangued referee and opposition each time he was dispossessed, lunged into a challenge deep in Valencia territory, leaving Andrés Guardado prostrate and the official reaching for his pocket. The red produced was rag to a wounded bull and Mestalla joyously rained down opprobrium on the head of the Swede.

Ibrahimovic, PSG's top scorer, will be banned for the second leg. David Beckham, watching from the stands in Valencia, will likely be fit to play but will now have little to direct his trademark crosses onto.

In truth, his sending off was Ibrahimovic's primary contribution to the match. Rarely did the big man deign to break into a sprint and often did his tongue lash his teammates when the ball was not delivered directly to his feet. Standing imperiously over a second half free kick, the Swede came closer to hitting the linesman that the target. But that is the man who penned I, Zlatan, in a nutshell. One week, sublime; the next, not worthy of the sub's bench.

But little matter, for the little men had already done the job before Valencia grasped a lifeline. Buzzing around the static Ibrahimovic in attack were Javier Pastore, an old head among the Parisian nouveu riche who signed from Palermo in 2011, for 42 million, Lucas Moura, the much-coveted Brazil attacking midfielder signed from São Paulo last month for 40 million and Ezequiel Lavezzi, a 26-million acquisition from Napoli six months ago. These are signings Valencia could only dream of within a dream. Between them, the three were too much for a Valencia side preoccupied with doubling up on Ibrahimovic.

By the final whistle the home side had seen 60 percent of the ball and mustered two shots on goal

Lavezzi opened the scoring on 10 minutes from a Pastore pass but only after Lucas, making his Champions League debut, had rattled a post. Valencia had little answer to the Brazilian's continued inquisition down the right side and twice he ghosted through almost the entire defense before being thwarted at the last by a desperate tackle or the improving Vicente Guaita, who recovered from the early onslaught well.

Still, PSG had a game plan and it paid dividends at the end of the half when Pastore fired through Guaita's legs from Moura's assist to double the visitors' lead. Valencia retained possession well but could not stem the tide of PSG's counter-attacks. By the final whistle the home side had seen 60 percent of the ball and mustered two shots on goal. PSG had fired in nine, one of which hit the back of the net in a goalmouth melee but was disallowed for offside.

Coming out swinging in the second period, Valencia enjoyed a spell of good pressure but could not convert possession into potency. Roberto Soldado, the great hope among the white shirts, endured a frustrating game, and several more than hopeful penalty appeals summed up Valencia's night. The introduction of Sergio Canales and Nelson Váldez at half time lent the home side numbers in attack and PSG was pushed onto the back foot, but rarely were spaces exploited and too often forward moves broke down with sideways balls or retreat to deny PSG the chance to break. Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde hauled Canales to the touchline at one point to remonstrate, eliciting animated protest from his young disciple.

Váldez should have scored from within the box but snatched, assuming he had less time than was the case, and hit the side netting. That was to be Valencia's best chance from open play.

However, as many Champions League matches have proven, four minutes of added time is an eternity in football. Valencia will need to be considerably bolder in attack to have any chance of progressing in Paris but as it proved in Mestalla, PSG will similarly need to keep its head beyond the regulation 90.

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