15th September 2015.
After a two-year absence, Valencia CF will return to the big stage of the UEFA Champions League for the 2015 2016 season. The Bats have never won this particular tournament, and haven't contended in a championship match in a decade and a half now. However, after a strong fourth-place La Liga performance in 2014 2015, Valencia will be looking to turn over a new page in the UEFA's biggest club football competition. But is the Valencia CF Champions League history an indicator of future success or a series of big disappointments.
The Glory Days
To date, Valencia's most successful run at the Champions League occurred in the early 2000s. Though
Valencia got their start all the way back in 1919, they only qualified for the UCL (formerly known as the European Cup) once in their first 90 years of existence. When they did, for the 1971 1972, they reached the second round (or the round of 16), only to lose to Hungary's Ãšjpest FC on a 1-3 aggregate for two legs.
The Bats wouldn't return to the Champions League until after their 90th birthday, which they celebrated on March 18th, 1999. To mark their 90th year, Valencia finished fourth place in the 1998 1999 Spanish La Liga and won the Copa del Rey for the first time in two decades. It was a solid soccer season, and it earned the Bats a spot in the UCL for the first time since the soccer tournament had been re-branded.
The 1999 2000 Champions League
Valencia went on to have an even better season in 1999 2000, finishing third in the La Liga and winning the Supercopa de Espana. The crown jewel of that season, though, was the football club's performance in the UCL-a dynamic and surprising Cinderella story run for a team that had been absent from the tournament for so long.
Indeed, Valencia went undefeated to top their group in the first group stage draw-against the likes of Bayern Munich, the Glasgow Rangers, and PSV Eindhoven, no less. The second group stage, meanwhile, saw Valencia finishing second, behind Manchester United, but ahead of Fiorentina and Bordeaux.
The Bats were arguably even more impressive in the knockout stages. Drawn against Lazio for the quarterfinals, Valencia won so big in the home leg (5-2) that even a loss in the second game (0-1, at Lazio) couldn't hurt them. They also won the aggregate 5-3 in the semifinals, where they played Barcelona. Once again, they won big enough at home (4-1) to weather an away leg loss (1-2) and earn a spot in the next round.
Valencia ultimately lost 0-3 to Real Madrid in the championship match, but the 1999 2000 UCL still saw the Spanish football club playing at a whole new level, compared to where they had been for many years up to that point.
The Years Since
The 2000 2001 Champions League brought Valencia even closer to a win. They topped both of their group stages this time (beating Lyon, Olympiacos, and Heerenveen in the first and Manchester United, Sturm Graz, and Panathinaikos in the second), and then burned through the knockouts, beating Arsenal and Leeds United to reach the finals.
In the final against Bayern Munich, it at first looked like the Bats were headed for a victory. Valencia midfielder Gaizka Mendieta scored a goal just three minutes into the match to take an early lead. But Bayern equalized the score early in the second half, forcing the game first into extra time, and then into a penalty kick shootout. Munich won the shootout 5-4.
Since then, Valencia have popped back up into the Champions League every few seasons. In fact, the 2015 2016 UCL will be the Bats' 10th overall appearance in the UCL-a major milestone for a club that, as recently as the late 1990s, had only ever qualified for the soccer tournament once.
Will Valencia celebrate their 10th Champions League with the big win that they couldn't quite manage in 2000 or 2001. It's tough to say: after all, the Bats haven't gone beyond the quarterfinals in the UCL since their last runner-up finish-though they did win the Europa League back in 2004.
Valencia CF Champions League History: What to Expect from the Bats in the 2015 - 2016 UCL
15th September 2015.