Swansea City’s first match in Europe in more than 20 years was always going to be something special, but even the most ardent supporter of the Welsh club couldn’t have envisaged just how memorable it would turn out to be. Just 13 years ago, Swansea were in the fourth tier of English football, while their opponents on Thursday were contesting the Champions League final. Yet, paying no heed to reputation, Swansea marched confidently into the Mestalla against a club that have been regulars at Europe’s top table since the turn of the century and emerged with a stunning 3-0 win to begin their Europa League campaign in dream fashion.
Admittedly, Valencia were reduced to 10 men as early as the 10th minute with the sending off of Adil Rami, but even before that Swansea had looked assured, while they deserve plenty of credit for subsequently making their numerical advantage count in emphatic fashion. Wilfred Bony got the opener after 15 minutes before Michu and a superb free-kick from Jonathan de Guzman made the result safe with quick-fire goals early in the second half.
Even at this early stage, after claiming three points away from home against what was on paper the strongest team in Group A, Swansea are in a strong position to ensure their European adventure continues into the New Year. Swiss side St Gallen visit the Liberty Stadium in two weeks, before a double header with Russian side Kuban Krasnodar.
It is a very different feeling that will pervade Valencia and their coach Miroslav Djukic. After three-straight defeats in La Liga, the debts that have long forced the club to sell off their best talent are now hitting harder than ever. Still, Djukic has players at his disposal to ensure a far better display that was produced on Thursday.
The night got off to an ignominious start for the home side. Ever Banega’s uncharacteristic mistake on the ball was immediately followed by an error from Rami as his slowness on the turn allowed Bony to burst past him and get clean through on goal. The French defender’s attempts to atone for his mistake only made matters worse as he hauled his opponent to the ground to concede a free-kick and a red card that could not be argued.
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With Valencia still in disarray following the sending off, Michael Laudrup’s side capitalized just five minutes later. After a fast-flowing counter-attack, Michu stretched to cut the ball back to Bony, whose left-footed shot deflected into the roof of the net.
It could have been even better for the visitors before half time. Another error at the back by Valencia resulted in Nathan Dyer firing just wide of the far post, while the lively Bony also went close to a second. Still, 13 minutes into the second half, Swansea all-but secured their win.
Another showcase of Swansea’s admirable passing and movement saw Pozuelo feed a fine ball through to his fellow-Spaniard Michu in the box, who lashed a shot first-time past Vicente Guaita at his near post. The goal of the match, though, was saved for last. From fully 30 yards out to the left of center, De Guzman’s approach to strike at goal looked optimistic. Yet, the Dutchman proved any doubters wrong with a stunning curling effort into the far-top corner past the despairing and disbelieving dive of Guaita to cap a classic night for the side from south Wales.