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  Euro Stars  »  Vicente Rodríguez


In-form Vicente provides Spain with cutting edge
Vicente Rodríguez
In a season in which Raul, Joaquin and Ivan Helguera have conspicuously failed to shine, Spain coach Inaki Saez can at least take comfort from the stunning form of Valencia midfielder Vicente.

The 22-year-old left winger has been the outstanding Spanish player in the Primera Liga this season, playing an instrumental role in helping his club to a first domestic and European double.

His sparkling work on the left flank has been the key to Valencia's ability to prise open opposition defences and score crucial goals on the break.

Like his role model Ryan Giggs, the slightly built midfielder can dribble with the ball at pace and possesses the sort of quicksilver foot work that enables him to skip past even the most accomplished of fullbacks.

This season he has put players of the quality of David Beckham and Luis Figo in the shade with his pin-point crosses into the area.

It was Vicente who led Valencia out of their only trough of the season when they stuttered to two successive defeats after being deprived of a victory away to Real Madrid by a controversial last-gasp penalty.

He turned in a virtuoso performance -- and scored twice -- as he steered his side to a confidence-boosting 3-0 win at home to Deportivo Coruna at the start of March and repeated the trick three weeks later at Racing Santander.

In the run-in to the end of the season he provided Valencia with the cutting edge that enabled them to negotiate their way past tricky opponents such as Sevilla and Betis.

He then capped a brilliant campaign by coolly slotting home from the penalty spot to put his side ahead on the stroke of halftime in the UEFA Cup final against Olympique Marseille and made the second for leading striker Mista.

"I've got to admit it's been a great season," Vicente said after the final in Gothenburg.

"I've played well, scored a lot of goals and then helped us win the UEFA Cup. Now I just want to keep going to help Spain achieve something worthwhile at Euro 2004.

Excelling in the youth ranks of Valencia's junior club Levante, the quietly-spoken midfielder attracted the attention of Arsenal's European scouting network but instead opted to sign up for his home team in 2000.

He made such an impact on the technical staff of the club that they quickly realised they could afford to sell leading midfielder Gaizka Mendieta to Lazio and were later prepared to release Argentine international Kily Gonzalez.

He earned his first call-up for Spain in his first season in the top flight, but was thought too inexperienced by coach Jose Antonio Camacho to go to the 2002 World Cup.

Since Saez took over as coach, though, he has been a fixture in the side and has taken much of the responsibility for running the Spanish attack.

Saez has opted for safety first in his choice of squad for next month's tournament in Portugal, but if there is one player who is likely to set Spain's campaign alight it has to be the Valencia winger.
- Simon Baskett




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