The rise of Valencia at the turn of the century seems a lifetime away in light of Spain’s current duopoly. Inspired by Gaizka Mendieta, Los Che’s success began in 1999 with their first domestic trophy in 20 years, as they saw off Barça and Madrid on the way to Copa del Rey glory.
In the quarter-final first leg at the Nou Camp, Mendieta thundered in the sort of volley that would have even seen Alan Partridge straining for superlatives, his shot arrowing into that perfect intersection of post and crossbar before anyone in the stadium could so much as blink.
“It’s funny because that set-piece wasn’t trained,” Mendieta recalls. “It was improvised from the moment we took the corner. I saw I was on my own outside the box, so I raised my hand asking for the ball from [Adrian] Ilie. He put over a perfect long pass and I just hit it.”
Not comfortable with scoring merely one goal-of-the-season contender, the Basque midfielder helped himself to another in the 3-0 final victory over Atletico Madrid.
Controlling a cross on his chest with his back to goal, Mendieta flicked the ball backwards over the heads of the Atletico defenders before spinning to fire in a low left-foot volley.
“The goal in the final took more ability, self-control, awareness of other players and technique, but that volley against Barça was obviously fantastic. Saying that, it could have gone anywhere!”
From the December 2011 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe!
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