Raul celebrates homecoming as Valencia frustrated

MADRID, Feb 16, 2011 (AFP) - Veteran Spain striker Raul Gonzalez enjoyed a successful return to his homeland scoring a vital equaliser as Schalke managed a 1-1 first leg draw against Valencia at the Mestalla stadium on Tuesday to gain the edge in the Champions League last 16 tie.

Schalke's striker Raul celebrates his goal during the Champions League match Valencia against Schalke 04 on February 15, 2011 at Mestalla stadium in Valencia. AFP

Roberto Soldado's sixth Champions League goal had put Valencia in front on 17 minutes but 33-year-old veteran Raul, who ended 16 glorious years at Real Madrid when he joined Schalke in the summer, equalised on 64 minutes with an important away goal.

Raul is the all-time top-scorer in Champions League history and his 69th goal in the competition hands Schalke the advantage for the second leg in Gelsenkirchen on March 9.

"We knew they were dangerous and had quality players in attack," said Soldado. "You can't give Raul a metre, if he has a chance he does what he did to us.

"We are an ambitious team and we had hoped for a more positive result, but we have done so much to get here that we are not going to give up now."

Valencia had drawn 0-0 with Schalke in their last Champions League meeting at the Mestalla in the 2007/08 group stage and were hoping for a better result to take to Germany.

Schalke, languishing tenth in their domestic league, were targeting an away goal and manager Felix Magath fielded an ambitious line-up with two strikers in Raul and Dutchman Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

It was a special moment for former Real Madrid star Raul and Valencia knew all about the threat from the striker who scored against them in the 2000 Champions League final when Real won 3-0 in Paris.

With nine minutes gone Huntelaar, who had a torrid spell in Spain with Real Madrid, had a good early chance but the Dutch forward completely mistimed his volley and failed to make contact to Valencia's relief.

Soldado showed him how to do it with a clinical finish on 17 minutes to open the scoring.

French full back Jeremy Mathieu broke down the left and crossed for Soldado who expertly guided a volley past Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

It was Soldado's sixth goal in the competition as he moved a goal behind the competition's top-scorer Samuel Eto'o of Inter Milan.

Schalke came centimetres from equalising on 25 minutes with a looping header from midfielder Peer Kluge tipped onto the crossbar by Vicente Guaita.

Soldado almost scored his second five minutes later but his glancing header went just wide and the German visitors were glad for the half-time whistle.

Raul had been quiet in the first half but almost levelled four minutes into the second half after a long ball over the top saw him clean through on goal but Guaita was down quickly to push Raul's shot wide.

An exciting opening to the second half saw Aritz Aduriz spurn a chance for the hosts minutes later but his shot lacked power and failed to trouble Neuer.

Raul was looking more and more threatening and the forward got the goal he craved on 64 minutes.

Jose Jurado fed a pass into Raul, who took one touch to set himself, before sliding a left-footed shot into the corner for the equaliser.

Schalke took heart from the goal and Chinese substitute Junmin Hao almost scored a winner late on with Guaita again saving the day.

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