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Valencia all but back in Champions League as hard graft pays off | Sid Lowe

It may be only two years since the club were last in Europe’s premier contest but it feels like a watershed as a return looms

“They’re all talking about that long run in the dressing room,” Gabriel Paulista said. It had been 14 years, after all. On Saturday afternoon, Valencia beat Sevilla 2-0 at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, the first time they had won there since May 2004, back when Pep Guardiola was a midfielder, not a manager, Lionel Messi had not played a senior game and Sergio Ramos was just starting out, a 19-year-old dreaming of Claudio Caniggia. Of the 30 footballers who took to the field that day, he and Dani Alves are the only ones still going and now have 52 titles between them. Then, they had one. Sevilla, the record-holding, five-times Uefa Cup/Europa League winners, had never even won the trophy once. And as for Valencia: well, they were the best team in Spain.

Things have changed, all right. One thing that didn’t was the result. Back then, goals from Vicente Rodríguez and Rubén Baraja gave Valencia victory; better still, victory carried them to the league title, for the second time in three years under Rafa Benítez. Ten days later, they won the Uefa Cup, too. This time, 14 years and no Valencia victories later, two goals from Rodrigo Moreno secured a win that also carried Valencia back to the Champions League, all but guaranteeing them at least fourth place as it lifted them 11 points, plus head-to-head goal difference clear of their opponents in fifth.

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