Raul finds redemption on return to Spain

MADRID - Raul's 69th and latest Champions League goal did much more than give his new Schalke team a valuable 1-1 draw with Valencia, it made the 33-year-old Spanish striker feel like a footballer again.

After spending most of last season on the bench at Real Madrid, where he had played for 16 years, Raul moved to Germany in the belief that he could still cut it at the top.

Back in Spain On Tuesday he showed the simple, redemptive power of goalscoring at the highest level as he proved to his own satisfaction he had been right to take the gamble.

"I needed a game like this to feel like a footballer again," Raul said after a familiar looking goal to anyone who has followed his career, coming as it did with a great piece of anticipation and a low shot with his favoured left foot.

"The decision to leave (Real) was correct," added the Spanish forward, who holds the record for goals scored in Europe's three main club competitions.

Raul's Real Madrid past ensured he received a hostile reception from some Valencia fans in the first leg of their last 16 tie, but many others had come especially to see the player who was often known as 'Spain's number seven' before David Villa took the shirt from him in the national team.

He is not the strongest, quickest or most skilful of players but has always had a workrate and predatory instinct that marks him out from the crowd.

He can boast three European Cup winner's medals from 1998, 2000 and 2002, was top scorer in the 2000 and 2001 editions and has found the net in each of the last 14 seasons in the Champions League.

After a lean start with Schalke, Raul is starting to find his feet again and has now scored three times in this season's Champions League.

That has taken him past his nearest goal-scoring rival, former Germany international Gerd Mueller, who scored 66 goals in 74 games spread across the European Cup, Cup Winners' Cup and the UEFA-Fairs Cup.

Schalke host Valencia for the second leg in Gelsenkirchen on March 9.