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ANALYSIS Valencia duo worthy of Camacho faith

Thursday 9th May 2002

By Lucas Brown

Valencia's championship-winning season threw up a host of new stars in the Mestalla squad, but none were more impressive or influential than the midfield duo of Ruben Baraja and David Albelda.

Players like Santiago Canizares, Roberto Ayala and Kily Gonzalez again had impressive campaigns and the rest of the players were rotated to great effect. But Baraja and Albelda finally lived up to the potential that they had been promising.

Along with the diminutive Pablo Aimar, who was allowed to roam the field wreaking havoc, Albelda provided the steel in front of the back four while Baraja was the engine in defence and attack. The majority of football enthusiasts outside of Spain will not have heard of the duo before the run-in to the Spanish season, but they certainly will know all about them after the World Cup finals.

Baraja was signed by Valencia in the summer of 2000 for a club record fee of £7.8 million after showing flashes of brilliance at Atletico Madrid during his two-year spell in their first-team.

Albelda was eventually given a run in the side at the start of the 1999-2000 season, after twice moving away from the Mestalla to Villarreal, but he suffered a major setback when he broke his leg in December.

He recovered well and finally blossomed into a high-class midfielder during the current campaign when he wracked up a tally of 51 appearances in a rotating squad system.

Baraja's rise to prominence is perhaps more surprising as he only managed to chalk up 18 starts for Rafa Benitez's side after damaging ligaments in his right during pre-season training last summer. But the fact that his reappearance in the squad coincided with the team's sudden upturn in fortunes did not go unnoticed.

Valencia have found it difficult to score this season and when they had failed to win away from home going into December, calls were made for the team coach to be sacked. The fact that Benitez's side was the last to be beaten in the first division was not important as they lay in eighth place and fans wanted a change in management.

But Baraja came back and with him so did the team's ability to turn good performances into vital victories. The fact that the team have only scored 49 goals in the entire campaign, has been in stark contrast to a watertight defence that has only conceded a miserly 27 goals in 37 outings.

It is unusual in Spain for the top teams to contain two committed, hard-tackling midfielders along with a skilful attacking flair player. But Benitez has combined his trio just right.

While Aimar wins the plaudits for his entertaining forward runs, it is Baraja and Albelda that win the ball in the centre of the park and begin the majority of the teams attacks.

Spain coach Jose Antonio Camacho has noticed how well they play together and began to team them up in the centre of the national side during World Cup warm-up games. They impressed and have already been told that they will travel to Japan and Korea for the finals.

Albelda will have the perfect opportunity to show off his talents as he will fill the place of the influential Josep Guardiola, who managed to recover from his drugs ban only to suffer a serious injury that sees him ruled of the tournament. The Valencia man has similar vision and passing, but he excels in his ability to recover the ball so Camacho will get more than just a playmaker.

Baraja has forced his way in ahead of Juan Valeron and Sergio Gonzalez as he scored six goals to take him to the top of Valencia's goalscoring charts and prove to Camacho that he is the complete midfielder.

He is the box-to-box central figure that Spain have missed in previous competitions and will help dispell the legacy that surrounds the national side that they are too nice. Camacho explained recently that the Spanish like to play romantic football and that has seen them exit previous major championships much earlier than their potential dictated.

But the world is set to see a different country in action and it could all revolve around the two men that have quietly helped Valencia to their first title in 31 seasons.

Baraja and Albelda could become household names, but it will come as little surprise to many at the Mestalla if they are the stars for Spain in this World Cup.

onefootball
 
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