Real Madrid’s defeat at Sanchez Pizjuan suggests the Liga contest will not be as straightforward as some suggest.
And on the eighth day, Real Madrid lost. La Liga, on the other hand, won. After five wins out of five in the league, and two out of two in the Champions League, the only major team in Europe with a 100 per cent record finally fell. Madrid had enjoyed the best Primera Division start in their history, scoring 16 and conceding just three, while in Europe they had scored eight times in two games. But it had to end somewhere. And that somewhere was the Sanchez Pizjuan, Seville.
On a warm Sunday night, to a backdrop of the Marseillaise and the Arrebato – surely the best club anthem in Spanish football – it finished 2-1 to Sevilla with goals from Jesus Navas and Renato. But that hardly told the story of an extraordinary game. It certainly didn’t do justice to a superb performance from Manolo Jimenez’s team: a breathless display of pace, hunger and intensity, reminiscent of Juande Ramos’ relentless side that so nearly won the league in 2007 as they powered to the Spanish Cup and a second successive UEFA Cup.
With the stadium clock long having stopped at 90 minutes, Sergio Ramos was played in. The Madrid full-back – who left Sevilla for the Spanish capital when president Florentino Perez paid his £24million buyout clause (plus tax) at the start of the 2005-06 season – had been whistled, booed and abused throughout the game. It was the perfect opportunity for him to take revenge; instead it became the perfect, dramatic finale for Sevilla’s fans. Hearts in mouths, they had watched, relieved as the man they loved to hate blew it with the last kick of the match.
Off the pitch, the ball, which had come back off the side netting, was still moving when the referee Iturralde Gonzalez blew the final whistle. A huge roar went up; Madrid’s players hit the deck, exhausted. Sevilla had secured a brilliant victory. This was more than just a match. The team whose entire starting XI cost less than half of Cristiano Ronaldo alone had beaten the new galacticos.
They had deserved it too. A Ramos equaliser would have been cruel. When Pepe equalised early in the second half, there was a sneaking suspicion that Madrid would go on to win. In the end, they didn’t. In the end, there was justice. Sevilla had taken 11 shots to Madrid’s two. After the match, Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini admitted it had been a fair result. Freddie Kanoute insisted his side should have scored a few more. He was right. Their wastefulness as they launched fast break after fast break in the final 20 minutes stopped them adding to the score.
So too did Iker Casillas. One particular save, from Diego Perotti, who was only two yards out, had the 45,000 in the stadium and the millions watching at home shaking their heads in disbelief. Perotti could not believe it either. An orange blur had somehow flown across the goal line to block the ball, with sports daily Marca calculating Casillas had reached it in 0.16 seconds, covering almost the entire width of the goal. It was an astonishing feat of speed and agility.
“I don’t believe it! That was incredible,” screamed Onda Madrid’s commentator from high in the Sanchez Pizjuan. “Casillas is Superman!” The following day, the Madrid media likened it to Gordon Banks’ famous save from Pele at the 1970 World Cup. Madrid’s own television channel showed it on a loop. It certainly beat focusing on everything else that happened at the Sanchez Pizjuan. This was not Madrid’s best night. “As bad as it gets,” was the damning judgement of one newspaper.
Madrid simply couldn’t handle Sevilla’s speed and intensity. In particular they couldn’t handle the two wingers as the home side crashed forward like an avalanche – Perotti on the left and Jesus Navas on the right. Kaka famously wears a T-shirt declaring: “I belong to Jesus.” Well, he should lend it to his countryman Marcelo because, to use the vernacular, Jesus owned him. Poor Marcelo simply could not handle the 23-year-old Spaniard who spent the night dashing away from him and leapt over him to head the first goal. Navas, by the way, is barely 5ft 7in.
Part two tomorrow