Valencia forward Helder Postiga headed an equalizer in the final minute of stoppage-time to snatch a 1-1 draw at home to Copa del Rey holders Atletico Madrid in an intense and entertaining round-of-16, first-leg tie on Tuesday.
After Raul Garcia had nodded the visitors ahead in the 72nd minute, Portugal forward Postiga finally beat inspired goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois when he was on hand to send a mishit Sofiane Feghouli cross into the net from close range after 93 minutes.
In new coach Juan Antonio Pizzi’s second game in charge, a fired-up Valencia dominated possession at the Estadio Mestalla, but fell behind when a fluffed clearance by goalkeeper Vicente Guaita fell to midfielder Garcia.
Garcia also had Atletico’s best chance of the first half, but his rising effort was well saved by Guaita, while Valencia’s Juan Bernat drew a fine save from Courtois with a low drive seven minutes after the break.
Courtois made three more brilliant saves as Valencia pressed for an equalizer, first leaping to tip a curling effort from substitute Sergio Canales around the post in the 76th minute.
The Belgium international, on loan from Chelsea, then denied Pablo Piatti in the 82nd minute, before producing possibly his best stop of the night a minute later from Feghouli’s close-range blast.
It looked as if Diego Simeone’s Atletico side, who are level on points with Barcelona at the top of La Liga, would hold on to their lead ahead of the second leg at the Estadio Vicente Calderon in a week’s time, but Postiga struck in the final action of the game.
Nevertheless, with an away goal in the bank, Atletico, who beat bitter city rivals Real Madrid 2-1 in last season’s final, will be favorites to advance to face Real Betis Balompie or Athletic Bilbao, who were due to play yesterday, in the quarter-finals.
Atletico have won all their home matches this season apart from a 1-1 draw against Barcelona, who they play in La Liga on Saturday, in August’s Spanish Supercopa first leg.
“I think we deserved more, but we are content with the draw, the tie is still open and we will carry on fighting,” Postiga told Canal Plus. “The intensity of the team was good and we have to continue in the same vein. We were up against a great goalkeeper and a solid defense, and we knew how tough it would be to score a goal against Atletico.”
Courtois told Canal Plus the away goal could be crucial for next week’s second leg.
“It was a great match and Valencia are always great opponents, and there was a fantastic atmosphere,” the goalkeeper said. “In the first half we hardly created anything and in the second I had a lot of work to do. We were hoping to hold out until the end, but it wasn’t to be, but the positive thing is we’ve scored an away goal and that’s important for the return leg.”