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Servette prepare for Spanish giants

Can the Servette players repeat their Berlin heroics? Keystone Archive

Servette Geneva will face up to another daunting UEFA Cup challenge on Tuesday when they take on Spanish league leaders Valencia in the competition's fourth round.

The Swiss team have already pulled off one major surprise in beating German top division side Hertha Berlin during the third round. But both literally and figuratively their next opponents are in a different league.

“I have watched two of Valencia’s matches and I was very impressed,” admitted Servette coach Lucien Favre. “They are one of the strongest teams in Europe with no particular weak points and that makes them clear favourites.

“They play football from another planet,” Favre added.

Champions League runners-up

Runners up in the prestigious Champions League tournament for the past two seasons, Valencia returned to the top of the Spanish first division on Saturday after a 1-1 draw away to neighbouring Villarreal.

But despite their top class credentials, and an annual budget more than 16 times greater than Servette’s, the Spanish club insist that they won’t be underestimating the Swiss underdogs.

“They’re not the sort of team we’re going to beat by a wide margin,” Valencia coach Rafa Benitez warned. “We’ll have to be careful because they could easily surprise us.”

Early start

Benitez is also worried that the early evening kick-off time for Tuesday’s first leg match might diminish the usually ferocious home support at the club’s Mestalla stadium, although the game was originally brought forward from Thursday to help ease Valencia’s own schedule.

“Tuesday is a normal working day and it means lots of fans won’t be able to make it,” Benitez said. “We can’t use it as an excuse but it does mean we’ll be without our usual support.”

With a home leg still to come in Geneva on February 28, Servette will of course be happy to seize whatever advantage they can find in Valencia. But midfielder Johann Lonfat knows it will take another incredible performance.

“It needs Valencia to be just average and for us to be extraordinary,” the Swiss international conceded.

Injury worries

Servette’s bid to write another extraordinary chapter into their club history has not been helped by a series of injury blows, though. Striker Léonard Thurre is out for the rest of the season with a damaged calf, while Yugoslavian forward Goran Obradovic and Swiss international Alexandre Comisetti have also been ruled out.

Switzerland striker Alex Frei, his international team-mate Sébastien Fournier and Brazilian defender Hilton are meanwhile battling for match fitness.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR