Four minutes was all that Alvaro Negredo and Valencia needed to ensure that Spain would have maximum representation in the UEFA Champions League group stage, but it was anything but easy for the La Liga side to complete a 4-3 aggregate victory over Monaco Tuesday night.
After, Negredo chipped home a lovely 4th-mninute goal after Fabinho's giveaway Monaco could not wipe out the 4-1 leg deficit they faced in the second leg playoff match at their Stade Louis II home. Monaco did get goals from Andrea Raggi and Elderson to win 2-1 on the night, but the quick Negredo strike got Valencia over the line after a dramatic closing 20 minutes.
Valencia will join European champion Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Europa League winner Sevilla in the draw for the 2015-16 group stage that begins in September, giving La Liga five chances to maintain their grip on Europe's top club competition. They will learn their group opponents on Thursday when the Champions League draw is made (FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go, 11:30 a.m. ET).
Monaco drop into the Europa League and will find out their group opposition during Friday's draw for that competition.
Valencia actually could have been two goals up on the night in the first four minutes, but goalkeeper Danijel Subasic's fine reaction save denied Shkkodran Mustafi a goal as he pounced on a corner kick and put a low drive through traffic just 90 seconds into the action.
Monaco, beaten 3-1 in Spain a week ago, hadn't recovered from that dangerous moment when Negredo latched onto Fabinho's mistake, came down the left flank and lobbed Subasic to the far top corner. Negredo, who moved to Valencia after having some early success during his stay at Manchester City, had not started the first leg, but was introduced by manager Nuno Espirito Santo to give his new club just that extra bit of attacking power. That decision eventually won the tie.
Raggi got Monaco a 17th-minute lifeline when he snapped home from a weak clearance, turning inside two defenders at the top of the box after Valencia back-up Matt Ryan failed to get anywhere near an Anthony Martial cross from the left and his defenders could only poke the ball softly to the scorer.
The defensive steel that characterized Monaco's surprise run to the Champions League quarterfinals last season was completely missing over these two legs, however, so that even Raggi's goal did not change the character of a second leg's first half. The visitors kept to an attacking plan with the result that Monaco was working hard simply to get possession and was often caught scrambling back when Valencia attacked down either flank.
While Martial did manage to look dangerous, the best chances fell to Valencia, which failed to find the frame with two open headers that could have killed off any Monaco interest before the interval.
The tone changed completely after the break, Monaco getting a grip on midfield and starting to put on the pressure that forced Valencia into some scrambling defensive cover and kept the Spanish side from launching the counters which had proved so effective.
Hope came with 15 minutes left when Ryan could only parry a free kick from the top right that allowed Elderson to scramble home the rebound to set up Monaco's storming finish. Ryan had to be good to deny Thomas Lemar at the low right corner in the 83rd minute as the pressure increased on the Valencia defense. A header from Guido Carrillo flew past Ryan's right-hand post three minutes later.
When Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli played six minutes of stoppage time the home crowd thought that the chance of survival was still there, but Valencia had enough left to hold on and advance.