Valencia showed a touch of class as they dispatched Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium, but their opponents made things very difficult over the course of the match. The La Liga side initially seemed unprepared to deal with the raw physicality of the Potters, and they were particularly stretched by an early aerial bombardment capped by some monstrous long throw-ins courtesy of Rory Delap.
However, the visitors seemed more than capable on the break and they too were threatening whenever Stoke pushed up too far, only for moves to break down on the final pass. Both teams were looking like they could score, but neither managed until a moment of magic from Turkey's Mehmet Topal, who picked the ball up 35 yards from goal, took a couple of touches and blasted a shot right past Asmir Begovic and into the top corner.
That description doesn't do Topal's strike justice. Thousands of years ago, Plato spoke of a mental world in which concepts of things reside. A table, for example, or a square. In the real world, nothing is a perfect table or a perfect square. This was a glimpse into that realm of the mind -- the Platonic long-range shot. It was hit about as hard as is humanly possible, making a beeline from Topal's right boot into the back of the net. It may still have been rising as it crossed the line. It was brilliant, and deserved to win any football match.
But there was still about an hour of football left to be played, and it featured Stoke pouring forward in an attempt to equalize while Valencia played around with the counterattack. It was the visitors who came closest to the game's second when Sofiane Feghouli slammed the ball into the post thanks to a vicious deflection off Robert Huth. Ultimately, the match would end at 1-0, and Valencia take an important lead back to the Mestalla for the second leg.