On 12th September, 2015, Raúl Tamudo – an Espanyol legend – took to the grass of the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat once again, the magnitude of the act quite evident on his shoulders.
After performing the honorary kick-off in his jeans, he left the Cornellá stadium looking as humble as when he had stepped on that grass for the first time in 1997.
Today, we look back at two end-of-season goals he scored that changed the fate of many La Liga clubs – for better or for worse.
Scene 1: 9th June, 2007. 9:00pm
Real Madrid and Barcelona, both on top of the table, both with the same number of points but the Catalans are behind on head-to-head.
Real Madrid make the trip to La Romareda to face Real Zaragoza while Barcelona face city rivals Espanyol on home turf. Two games left in the season and both teams know victory was essential.
Over the next 90 minutes, the tables turned numerous times, so much so that even Sevilla were on top of the table for a few minutes. And so the two matches kicked off in perfect unison.
29th minute – Raúl Tamudo scores – a brilliant top-right-corner finish from inside the box, beating Víctor Valdés.
32th – Diego Milito scores a penalty after Pablo Aimar is fouled in the box.
43th – Messi scores this goal.
57th – Ruud van Nistelrooy powers in a header to level the scores. Seconds later at the Camp Nou Messi scores – again – a right-footed shot into the left bottom corner.
64th – Diego Milito scores again, this time drilling a low shot under Casillas
89th – Ruud Van Nistelrooy scores again, an inch out from the goal line.
At this point, Real Madrid are on 73 points and Barcelona on 75.
It looked like the league was sealed, for the final fixtures were easy – Madrid vs Mallorca and Barcelona vs Nastic.
And then it wasn’t.
Former Barcelona player Francisco Rufete, then playing for Espanyol, played a sumptuous low through ball past the Barcelona defense and the only striker available waited for Valdés to come to him. A long wait, but a true number nine goal. No complications, no extravagance. A simple, effective, precise finish.
The goal to end Barcelona’s La Liga hopes.
This was the year that Barcelona lost the UEFA Super Cup to Sevilla, the FIFA Club World Cup to Internacional of Porto Alegre, Brazil, were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League at the Round of 16 stage, and were dumped out of the Copa del Rey after a shameful 4–0 loss to Getafe in the semi finals.
Just one striker, scoring one dull, boring goal, to end one club’s hopes for one annual championship.
Scene 2: 13th May, 2012. 7:00pm
The league table reads 15th Granada (42 points), 16th Villarreal (41), 17th Rayo Vallecano (40), 18th Zaragoza (40).
As Villarreal entertain Atletico Madrid at El Madrigal and Zaragoza visit Getafe, Rayo Vallecano play Granada at the Vallekas, arguably the crunch game; both know that most probably, the loser will go down to play in La Segunda.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Rayo Vallecano were in eighth place after match day 27, and were two points off a Europa League place. Four points off a Champions League place.
But a poor record of three points – a solitary, albeit impressive, win – from nine games, left them relegation candidates and needing a win. Only a win could save them.
On the polar opposite side were Zaragoza, who had given up mid-season, but an impressive run of six wins and a draw in nine had helped them remain in 18th, needing a win.
Granada had been in poor form all along – five points in their last six games hadn’t helped either. And Villarreal, playing in the Champions League, were in poor form too, but know a draw would be enough.
All that is about to change.
Zaragoza win 2–0 against Getafe, who were reduced to ten men, then to nine. And then to eight. Zaragoza were safe. Miraculously.
And till the 87th minute, Rayo Vallecano were relegated.
Except that three goals, in three stadiums, scored in four minutes, would leave a shocking surprise.
In the 88th minute, Falcao scores off a corner. 15th Granada (43), 16th Zaragoza (43), 17th Villarreal (41), 18th Rayo Vallecano (41). Level on points, but on head-to-head Villarreal were safe, and Rayo were relegated.
Seconds later, at the Vallekas, David Cobeño, the goalkeeper and captain of Rayo, is sent up for a corner. They have nothing to lose, but when the corner is cleared everyone starts to run. The minute the ball is loose, everyone is too. Some run backwards, some forward.
The ball somehow reaches the Granada box, where five Rayo players are standing. A shot is taken, saved. A shot by Michu hits the crossbar and rebounds. And there, standing near the goal line, a Spanish 5’10” striker tries his luck in an empty goal from a yard out. A header, a goal.
A goal to relegate a Champions League team with zero debt, to save the aspirations of a club in administration. Granada celebrate too, a while later, once they hear that Villarreal were beaten. The game that was to relegate at least one team, finished with both of them safe.
Scene 3: 5th September, 2015
A 37-year-old Spanish professional football player retires from football. He retires after seeing Sabadell relegated and being able to do nothing about it – a knee injury sidelined him for most of this season.
He ends up being the highest scoring Catalan and the highest scoring Espanyol player. He also scored in the second minute against Atletico Madrid in the 2000 Copa del Rey final, and then in the second minute against Real Zaragoza in the 2006 Copa del Rey final. His club won both.
He is a UEFA Cup finalist, losing to Sevilla on penalties; he scored five times for Spain in 13 appearances – all of them headers. He helped Spain qualify for the UEFA Euro 2008 with a crucial strike in Denmark. He is an Olympic Silver medalist, having helped Spain reach the final with a goal against USA.
But he was already a legend – from the day he scored that goal to deny a Champions League winning team the league title. He scored the Tamudazo. And then he saved Rayo Vallecano.