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The Belgian champions were often on the backfoot as the Spaniards’ controlled much of the 90 minutes, although lacked the cutting edge to win the game. Chances were at a premium in the game, with the away team failing to create much when it counted. Their centre-back Adil Rami came closest in the second-half, rattling the crossbar with an audacious bicycle kick.
Genk’s pre-match nerves as they heard the eponymous anthem before kick-off translated into the early passages of play. It was their first appearance in the Champions League for 9 seasons and it seemed they’d forgotten what it was like to play against premier opposition. Unai Emery’s men settled quickest and held the ball impressively, using the left flank to great effect. Pablo Piatti was the liveliest of the Los Che midfield, causing havoc for the slower back-four. Most of the chances of the half were created by French left-back Jérémy Mathieu, who was given a lot of space by Anele Ncongca. Often the South African right-back was aided by the younger Dugary Ndabashinze, as Genk attempted to neutralise the main outlet of Valencia’s play.
In truth, Genk should have been behind had it not been for wayward finishing or Jeroen Simaeys’ excellent defensive play. The bigger opposition had frightened some of the side – notably Daniel Toszer in midfield who was completely absent in the game. Valencia’s midfield engine purred throughout the half, as Ever Banega spreaded the play and Piatti roamed across the pitch. Banega’s performance was dampened by a foolish tackle on Czech left-back Daniel Pudil late in the half
The best chance of the half fell to former Lille centre-back Adil Rami, often left unmarked from corners and another Frenchman, Sofiane Feghouli, whose volleys were skied into the crowd. Captain for the evening, Roberto Soldado was kept largely quiet after the first ten minutes and most of his headers were weak or wide. Mario Been’s penchant for zonal marking is still in its infancy and Genk looked very slow to find their men on set-pieces.
Austrian bank clerk referee Thomas Einfaller was also part of the problem with the tempo of the game, stopping the game repeatedly for the most minor of offences.
Whatever Been said at half-time worked. Genk finally tested the debuting Diego Alves as Vossen ran straight from the kick-off and forced the Brazilian keeper into a good save. The crowd, who had been buoyant throughout the first half willed the team on as Valencia struggled to match their first half possession (66%) into chances. Finally, their swagger returned on 58 minutes, Soldado cutting it back across goal and Daniel Parejo stung the palms of Lazlo Koteles, the best stop of the game by either keeper. He then struck a free-kick just wide, when the Hungarian keeper wouldn’t have made it there.
Racing withstood further pressure, although some was self-inlflicted by poor clearances. Adil Rami was so unlucky with his acrobatic bicycle kick that hit the crossbar – an unusual trait for a centre-back certainly. Emery rolled the dice bringing on Aritz Aduriz and Sergio Canales to support Soldado and the game descended back to its early competitive feel. Been’s move was to bring on Elyaniv Barda and Marvin Ogunjimi, with his mind now firmly off the failed Mallorca move, to reshuffle his attack.
Both managers wanted to get early points on the board in a tough group and break the stalemate. Whilst Genk’s defence looked calm, Valencia’s struggled to cope with set-plays. Toszer’s free-kick found Simaeys in the area, who swiveled to shoot and only a brilliant reflex save from Alves denied him a goal. The control was still with Valencia but the home team dealt with every opportunity admirably.
Genk’s late surge could have punished Valencia but free players weren’t found and wrong decisions were made the lesser experienced players. But in then, the points were shared and the crowd roared in appreciation. Genk performed well as a unit, supressing Valencia’s attack whilst the away team looked slightly out of sorts, especially at the back.
Genk aren’t yet the group’s whipping boys and aren’t to be underestimated. They travel to face Bayer Leverkusen next who lost 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in the other Group E fixture.
Genk (4-4-2) – Koteles, Anele, Simaeys, Nadson, Pudil, Hubert (c), Toszer, Dugary, Buffel (Camus 85′), Kennedy Nwanganga (Ogunjimi 63′ ), Vossen (Barda 79′)
Manager – Mario Been
Valencia (4-2-3-1) – Diego Alves, Miguel, Rami, Víctor Ruiz, Mathieu, Topal, Banega, Piatti (Sergio Canales), Parejo (Aduriz 74′), Feghouli, (Pablo Hernandez 69′) Soldado (c)
Manager – Unai Emery
Referee – Thomas Einwaller – Austria
Attempts – Genk 7 – Valencia 21
Possession – Genk 36% – Valencia 64%
Tagged Adil Rami, Anele, Aritz Aduriz, Bayer Levekusen, Champions League, Chelsea, Dani Parejo, Daniel Pudil, Daniel Toszer, David Hubert, Dugary Ndadbashinze, Elyaniv Barda, Ever Banega, Fabien Camus, Genk, Group E, group stage, Jelle Vossen, Jeremy Mathieu, Jeroen Simaeys, Kennedy Nwanganga, Lazlo Koteles, live score, Mario Been, Marvin Ogunjimi, mbm, Mehmet Topal, Miguel, Nadson, Pablo Hernandez, Pablo Piatti, Roberto Soldado, Sergio Canales, Sofiane Feghouli, Thomas Buffel, Unai Emery, Valencia, Victor Ruiz