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VALENCIA - Israeli sports reporters, who tend to be much gentler souls than their colleagues from Turkey, Greece, or even England, managed to shock Valencia's coach Rafael Benitez and substitute goalkeeper Andres Palop by posing what seemed to be perfectly legitimate questions yesterday. It seems cultural or mentality differences can surface anywhere, including news conferences.

The second-string goalkeeper was asked if he would have also been set to start the game tonight if Valencia's opponent had been Juventus or Manchester United, instead of Maccabi Haifa. The coach was asked why he chose to keep some of his top players on the bench.

Benitez chose to sidestep the questions, while Palop blushed and mumbled, "You're very tough." Local reporters said if they had dared to ask these questions, they would have been banned from Valencia's training facilities.

Further north in Catalonia, reporters aggressively confront coaches and the news conferences are nearly always tempestuous. Reporters in Valencia keep a lower profile.

The coach's personality also has something to do with this - it appears sports writers in Valencia are simply afraid of Rafa Benitez.

The real Dante?

Dante Lopez is an enigma. In league play, he has been impotent and has lost his starting position. His future at Maccabi Haifa is uncertain.

The same Dante Lopez was a candidate to sign with Valencia this summer and he was swamped by reporters and television crews when the team landed here on Tuesday. Benitez said that Lopez could fit in well with any team in Spain.

So who's missing something here? If Valencia gave up on a great player, the player's greatness has certainly not been evident in Haifa. If Maccabi Haifa acquired a gem, where did the talent disappear?

And if his present capabilities reflect his true level, why does Benitez continue to speak about him in such glowing terms? Maybe this can also be chalked up to a difference in mentality, another cultural gap.