Schalke's Raul returns to Spain for Champions League tie



Raul will return to Spain for the first time since his move from Real Madrid when Schalke take on Valencia tonight in their Champions League last 16 first leg tie.

The former Spain striker helped Real win 15 trophies over 18 seasons before moving to the Bundesliga. Raul has scored 12 goals in 28 appearances for Schalke in his first season abroad.

"I think we have a very good chance of reaching the quarter-finals," said Raul, who has scored 13 goals in 25 games against Valencia, including a Champions League final triumph in 2000. "We've shown in the group stage what we are capable of."

While Schalke have never lost at the Valencia's Mestalla Stadium, the Spanish club come into the match in excellent form.

They have won six of seven matches for their best start to a calendar year since 1949/50. A 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid on Saturday moved them into third place in the league.

Valencia have been given a boost in attack with Juan Mata back in the line-up after the Spain international forward missed several weeks because of an ankle injury.

"We are focused 100 per cent on Schalke," Unai Emery, the Valencia coach, said. "We have had a lot of people analysing Schalke, and we want to transmit this excitement, this passion for the game [tonight] so that we all can enjoy it."

Valencia are returning to the knockout stage for the first time in four years while Schalke are back after three seasons. Both clubs went on to reach the quarter-finals last time.

Schalke managed draws in their previous two games at the Mestalla, while the clubs split the two games played in Germany. Valencia have not beaten German opponents on home soil since a 3-0 win over Bayern Munich in 1996.

"We are optimistic," Felix Magath, the Schalke coach, said. "We are going to try to score the away goal that would help us."

Raul, who scored 323 goals in 741 appearances for Real, will move ahead of Filippo Inzaghi, the AC Milan striker, as Uefa's all-time leading goalscorer with his next goal. The pair are tied with 70 goals each.

Raul is not the only one making his return to Spain. Christoph Metzelder, his former Real teammate, is also coming back and Jose Manuel Jurado is returning after joining Schalke from Atletico Madrid.

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