Madrid: Spanish legend Raul Gonzalez has an emotional return to his homeland as his Schalke 04 side travel to two-time runners-up Valencia on Tuesday for the first leg of the Champions League last 16 tie at the Mestalla stadium.
Raul, 33, ended his 16-year love affair with Real Madrid in the summer to join German side Schalke and hopes for a successful return to Spain as Schalke look to seize the upper hand in a tie between two of the lesser fancied teams left in the competition.
"It certainly won't be easy but, personally, I've got good memories from playing there," said Raul. "Valencia are a great team but this is going to be a very even tie.
"It's a really great incentive for me especially playing against such a strong rival and in a stadium that generates a great atmosphere. It's an extraordinary setting to play a Champions League game."
Valencia are third in the Spanish top tier after winning 2-1 at Atletico Madrid on Saturday and have the better pedigree in this competition having reached successive finals in 2000 and 2001.
Coach Unai Emery has managed to keep the team moving forward despite the summer sales of Spanish World Cup stars David Silva and David Villa and Villa's replacement Roberto Soldado has been a major factor behind their progression to the knockout phase.
Soldado, a 10-million-euro signing from Getafe, is his team's top-scorer with five goals in the group stage and the former Real Madrid man gets good service from speedy wingers Juan Mata and Joaquin.
Former Spain international winger Joaquin, scorer of both goals in the Atletico win, called for Valencia to capitalise on home advantage and take a lead to Gelsenkirchen for the return leg on March 9.
"Schalke are a great team and we have to turn up and show our fighting character at home," Joaquin said. "We want to get into the quarter-finals of the competition and we will try to get a good result to take into the second leg in Germany."
Schalke, who topped their group and conceded a miserly three goals, are having a torrid domestic season lying 10th in the German league, although they did get a morale-boosting 1-0 home win over Freiburg on Saturday.
"We were not clinical enough in front of goal but the win will lift us for the games ahead, starting with the Champions League match at Valencia," said coach Felix Magath.
Valencia centre-back Ricardo Costa believes the former Real Madrid duo of Raul and Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are the ones to keep an eye on as they try to stop the Germans from getting a crucial away goal.
"Raul is the star of the team along with Huntelaar but we also can't forget about (Jefferson) Farfan," said Costa. "We are desperate to win this tie and we have to remember that it is two matches and try to score at home and keep a clean sheet."
Lithuanian midfielder Marius Stankevicius is cup-tied for Valencia after playing for Sampdoria in the qualifying rounds and Valencia are set to stick by third choice goalkeeper Vicente Guaita with Cesar Sanchez and Miguel Moya injured.