From Neptuno to Cibeles. And beyond!
My two wheeled kamikaze mission across the killing fields of central Madrid’s road network this damp and chilly morning took me past legions of hi-viz vest clad chaps humping – yes, humping – blue metal crowd barriers across two of the cities major plazas come intersections this morning. They were in the process of erecting crowd safety furniture (and leering at attractive women, of course) for tonight’s main event about a mile to the north in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Real Madrid take on Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey final – a tournament not dissimilar to the English FA Cup, in the sense that it’s viewed as the also rans trophy with little meaning and the quaint prize of a Europa League place.
But this year it’s a little different – at least for Madrid residents. Not since 1992 have the two main Madrid teams met in the final which, by happy co-incidence also took place in the Bernabeu. On that occasion Atleti came out winners after a ninety minute chopathon and went on a mad knees-up back down Castellana, beyond Cibeles – where Madrid celebrate their victories – to the cosier plaza on the Paseo del Prado flanked by enough art galleries to make butch Brian Sewell go even weaker at the knees, Neptuno. Whoever wins, a journey to one of these venues is a must in order to; watch the team parade the trophy, get roaring drunk and start running battles with the heavy handed riot police. The last isn’t compulsory, it’s just an added side event that seems to have gained in popularity over the years.
An interesting point about the game is that it’s named for the monarch – endangered wildlife botherer, Juan Carlos who is widely known to be a Real Madrid fan. His son and ‘Rey’ in waiting, Prince Felipe, is an Atleti man through and through. I’m sure that will be a fun evening in the palace with only Queen Sofia and Princess Letizia (footballing allegiances unknown, although as the latter was born and brought up in Oviedo we can draw our own conclusions) keeping the warring factions apart.
Away from the glitz, glamour, royalty and pre-emptive baton charges of the Madrid constabulary of derby day Cup Finals, we are now at Jornada 36 and there are still battles to be fought, points to be won, managers to be fired and fans to visibly upset on TV.
The games involving Madrid and Atleti have already been played a couple of weeks back. The capitalists beat Malaga by six goals to two (Man City beware) and Celta by one nil respectively. And as the Cup Final is taking place in the Friday night spot there won’t be a league ball scuffed in anger until Saturday afternoon when Getafe take on Valencia.
This encounter has all the hallmarks of a classic; two teams attack with verve, break forward thinking panache and are both battling for Europe. Nil – nil.
A win for either team in Saturday evening’s relegation six pointer between Granada and Osasuna could see them hit thirty nine points. Whilst that won’t make them mathematically safe it would put them on the cusp of another season in La Primera. Despite that, I suspect that this will be an occasion fraught with nerves to be decided by either a head-in-hands blooper, or a tense goalless bore draw.
Saturday night sees Sevilla take on Real Sociedad. La Real cocked-up (no better way of putting it) on Monday evening last and now need a win to put them back in with a shout of Champions League football next season. For their part, Sevilla are chasing a Europa League spot and could do with the points.
Sunday morning sees Rayo Vallecano travel to Valencia to meet Levante. At the start of the season this had relegation dog fight scrawled across it in foot high red paint. Alas, they’ll be nothing that exciting here as both teams secured mid-table respectability long, long ago.
After that we’re back on the trail of worried fans and resigned looking managers when Zaragoza host Athletic. Los Leones are safe – yep, like Northern Rock, Berings and The Royal Bank of Scotland are safe – whilst Zaragoza are not. However, a home win for Los Manos would give them a nice cushion. And we all like a nice cushion, don’t we?
Whilst we’re in the nether regions, Depor are hoping that Espanyol are already ‘on the beach’ as they say, when swords are crossed in A Coruna. Depor need three points alongside a Zaragoza capitulation in the previous game. Espanyol probably couldn’t care less, but then last weeks draw that did for Madrid’s title aspirations meant very little to them either, did it.
Sunday’s late game sees a love-in in Camp Nou. Barca get to be fancy Dan’s for the evening against a Valladolid team with little but pride to play for. Leo is on sick-leave in so they’ll be no records broken on the goal scoring front although the pundit in me still thinks that Barca may sneak this one.
Monday could be very Blue for Mallorca. In the event of a Zaragoza victory the Mallorquins will be relegated if they fail to beat Betis. I suspect that even an unlikely victory will merely be delaying the inevitable, but dreams, as we know, are the the currency of football. Then again, so are Roubles and Qatari Riyals. Not to mention tattoos and fast cars.
Good luck to all the teams this weekend and, if you should happen to be at either the Levante Rayo encounter on Sunday afternoon, or the Villarreal versus Girona match at the top of La Segunda on Saturday night, keep an eye out for a quartet of pasty Irish and Englishman as we escape the clutches of chilly Madrid and make way for the warmth of the Med for a weekend. Prove that you’ve bought a fine El Balonazo T-shirt and we may even stand you a glass of beer!