Expectedly, the NPFL All-Star had a nervous start in the opening match of their LaLiga tour but conceding a 2-1 defeat was a respectable scoreline for an ad hoc team of players picked from different clubs up against a well blended Valencia FC already revving for the opener of the new Spanish season.
Not a few Nigerians and Spaniards had predicted a rain of goals against the NPFL All-Star considering the pedigree of Valencia in world club football and they indeed showed superior mobility, pace and fluidity, breaking the resistance of the Nigerians in eight minutes into the game through Alvaro Medran’s header.
The early goal tended reinforce the bookmakers’ forecast but the All-Star rallied back to contention with Joseph Osadiaye drawing level equally with a nodder hustled out of a goal mouth struggle, in their first major attacking chance, to keep even into the break.
Valencia left not the capacity crowd at the Estádi Luis Sunner Pico in Alzira in doubt about their brilliance on the ball and zeal to attack but the All-Star’s defence even in occasional hair-splitting slips maintained a resilience that drew out the desperation of the hosts evidenced in their multiple substitutions after the break.
Undaunted, the NPFL team held out into the dying minutes of the game but got cracked in the 84th minute when Rodrigo Moreno ran in and brought down Medran’s cross into the 12 yard, rounded Ikechukwu Ezenwa and slotted into an empty net to give Valencia the winner.
Head coach of the All-Star, Salusi Yusuf, has rated the performance of the boys as “not too bad” given the quality and experience of the opponent.
“They played according to our technical except for the momentary slip that led to their winning goal.”
“They showed nervousness and anxiety at the beginning. That was expected from some of the boys who are playing outside the home environment for the fast time and against a big club like Valencia but after about 25 minutes, they came well into the game.
“Our attack was suspect. We did not press when we had the upper hand as we are supposed to.”
“Our opponents were faster on the ball but that is majorly because they play regularly on grass as most clubs in Europe do while our boys play on synthetic turf. Eighty per cent of the fields in paths Nigerian league is syntactic. You can see that before the game and after the first half, the pitch was watered and it became heavy and difficult for our boys to run well. A few of them, you could see were slipping.”
For captain of the All Star, China Akas, “it was a great experience playing against Valencia.”
“Notwithstanding the outcome, we have learnt some lessons in the game and it is a stepping stone.
“It took us time to get into the game but we finally did and tried to maintain balance and withstand their attacks. We held out but somehow they got a winner. That is football. We will go back and analyse the fault lines in preparation for our next game.”
Officials of the League Management Company spoken to are not fazed with the result, saying from the onset they had no misimpression about the standard of Valencia against an ad hoc team of the NPFL but the whole idea of the Laliga tour was to engage and expose the boys to high quality situations while opening doors for the technical and commercial improvement of the home league.