Friday, 19 April 2013
We have been meaning to crack Spanish football for a while after a diet of German and Italian in the past few years since starting this blog and after booking a four day stay in Barcelona and scanning the fixture list turned up Barcelona away to Zaragoza yet the city's second side RCD Espanyol, new stadium and all, entertaining Valencia on the Saturday, result.
In a city plastered with shirts bearing '10' and 'Messi' on nearly every corner you could be forgiven for thinking that there was just one team in Barcelona such is the fame of the current side and the history of the club. Yet tucked away in the Cornella district of the city lies RCD Espanyol, a mainstay in the top division for a number of years and who recently exported the current Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Wandering up to the stadium passing a wealth of tapas bars churning out generous portions of quality food, all the signs were looking good. The Estadio Cornella El Prat was built in 2005 and finished in 2009, that's Spanish builders for you, nevertheless it is easy on the eye from the outside in contrast to the Nou Camp.
Tickets collected after negotiating a very English-friendly ticket purchase system, we joined the locals and tourists up in the god's for kick off. Straight away the stadium looks brand spanking new yet unlike a lot of new builds seen around the globe. The corners are open with simply stunning views over the city, ironically these are the cheaper seats. The stands are all of equal size creating room for 40,000 fans which unfortunately Espanyol rarely get to see.
The game began with Valencia in 8th place and Espanyol lurking just below in 11th and straight away the boys in orange began to attack the Espanyol back line. Jonas and Soldado threatened early on testing goalkeeper Kiko Casilla. The home side lined up to play on the counter attack with winger Wakaso causing problems down the left.
My only real gripe with Spanish football is the theatrical side, players throwing themselves to the floor at the slightest contact yet blessed with a touch that can take on any opponent. Referee's in this league tend to enjoy their whistle in conjunction with this and the use of the yellow card is almost seen as compulsory. Another interesting and amusing feature is when a player hits the deck and stays down for more than a third of a second, a golf buggy is readied followed by a group of six paramedics armed with a stretcher entering the field. at this point I was wondering if all Spanish groundsmen were bald.
Meanwhile with half time approaching a break down the right produced a pin point cross onto the head of the lively Wakaso who rose to power a header into the bottom corner sending the crowd wild to the tune of 'Zombie nation' by Kernkraft 400. The scarves had barely had a chance to stop waving as Joan Verdu cut inside Ricardo Costa and hit the deck, the referee was having none of it despite clear contact and as is customary in this situation, the whistles began.
A quick mention to the supporters at this point and the ultra culture was in full flow at our end of the ground with drum banging, chanting and the familiar tunes being belted out in Spanish, top effort from the Espanyol faithful. Valencia had clearly received the Spanish equivalent of the riot act during half time and duly came out fighting, slick moves involving Bonega, Soldado and Guardado stretched the home side and soon the pressure paid off. A neat pass into the path of Sergio Canales matched by a cool finish under Casilla sent the 200 or so away fans (decent for this league) into raptures.
The shock of the equaliser woke the boys in blue from their half time siesta with Wakaso leading the charge. With just 6 minutes to go the pressure paid off as a cross from the right found Wakaso at the far post to nod down for Joan Verdu to fire into the turf and over the Valencia 'keeper, manic celebrations around the ground and the smell of victory became even stronger.....for all of six minutes.
Cheers still reverberating around the ground were soon silenced as Valencia duly arrived in the Espanyol area with the ball falling to Jonas to place past Casilla to break the hearts of the home support. Now comes a confession which I have toyed with admitting to, after a 5:30am start and a full day's travel we decided that the game was pretty safe to abandon as often the case is away side score - home side deflated - not much stoppage time - game ends a stalemate, at least that's how it's supposed to go. How wrong we were, upon leaving the stadium a huge cheer erupted, leading us to believe that the home side had stolen a famous win, the Spaniards around us were cursing their decision to leave and rightly so.
Once back in the metro the news didn't improve, due to the fact Valencia had bought under 200 fan's we couldn't hear them very well when they scored so to our horror we discovered that as we trampled down the steps on the way out Soldado had scored to make it 3-2 and with the last kick of the game Sergio Garcia had levelled for Espanyol.
Feeling like a right pair of Spanish donkey's we made our way back to the hotel with fond memories of a great evening, reasonable priced tickets to a new stadium in a great area, sublime support from the ultra's and massive respect given the neighbours they have to contend with. Introductions to Spanish football don't get much better, Vamos!