Veteran Spain striker Raul Gonzalez enjoyed a successful return to his homeland, scoring a vital equalizer as Schalke 04 managed a 1-1 first-leg draw against Valencia at the Estadio Mestalla on Tuesday to gain the edge in their Champions League last-16 tie.
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, equalized 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 handed Schalke the advantage for the second leg in Gelsenkirchen on March 9.
“We knew they were dangerous and had quality players in attack,” Soldado said. “You can’t give Raul a meter, if he has a chance, he does what he did to us.”
Valencia had drawn 0-0 with Schalke in their last Champions League meeting at the Mestalla in the 2007-2008 group stage and were hoping for a better result to take to Germany.
Schalke, languishing 10th in their domestic league, were targeting an away goal and manager Felix Magath fielded an ambitious lineup, 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 fullback 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.
Schalke came centimeters from equalizing on 25 minutes when a looping header from midfielder Peer Kluge was tipped on to the crossbar by Vicente Guaita.
Raul had been quiet in the first half, but he almost leveled four minutes into the second after a long ball over the top saw him clean through on goal, with Guaita getting down quickly to push his shot wide.
An exciting opening to the second half saw Aritz Aduriz spurn a chance for the hosts minutes later, but his shot 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 equalizer.
Schalke substitute Junmin Hao almost scored a winner late on, with Guaita again saving the day.