When most people outside the football circles in America hear of Spanish football, they likely will only know of Lionel Messi and his club, Barcelona, or Cristiano Ronaldo and his club, Real Madrid.
But there’s another club in the Spanish capital deserving of the same recognition and international praise. Club Atlético de Madrid.
As of November 30, they are in second place in La Liga, just three points behind the juggernaut that is Barcelona, despite the fact that they operate on a much smaller budget compared to their Madrid neighbors and Catalan rivals. (Look up transfer fees last 3 seasons)
Two of the last three seasons, Atléti has won the Europa League, the current version of the old UEFA Cup, the second tier of international football club competition, a very impressive feat. They also have won La Liga and the Copa Del Rey (Kings Cup), on nine occasions each, good for third most and fourth most all time, respectively.
The current star of the Rojiblancos (red and whites) is a man by the name of Radamel Falcao, a Colombian striker, with incredible talent, natural football instincts, and the confidence that comes with 11 goals in La Liga. In the European Super Cup in August, a game played for pride between the winners of the Champions League (Chelsea FC in England) and the Europa League, saw Falcao bag a hattrick in a 4-1 win, and start the betters guessing how much money his transfer fee will be this coming January or next July.
And if you are a Hoosier like I am, you have even more reason to love Atlético Madrid. They wear the candy stripes on their shirts. They play at the Estadio Vicente Calderón, the home of the Spanish National Team, with a capacity of 54,960, and like Assembly Hall, you can feel the history of the club and country when you walk through the stadium. And finally, like Indiana basketball this season, they are absolutely on fire, and are easily maybe playing the best football outside of Barcelona in the world, yet don’t even get the media coverage that other teams who are struggling (i.e. Real Madrid) receive.
Now, on to the match against Sevilla. One of the beautiful cultural aspects of Spanish society is their penchant for late evenings, enjoying tapas and cañas, which are essentially delectable appetizers and small beers, while they chat away with their friends and family until it’s dinner time, around 9 or 10 at night. As such, unlike in England where they love their tea time (3:00pm) matches on a Saturday afternoon, the Spanish love their 7:00pm matches on a Sunday, or Saturday, evening. The Spanish also love to snack, and nearly the entire crowd was chewing on pipas (sunflower seeds) during the whole 90+ minutes. Even I took part!
Unlike Thursday’s Europa League (Atlético are in the competition once again) 1-0 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv of Israel, this match actually had an atmosphere to it, even on the metro to the match, and certainly with the avenues around the stadium filling up to the brim, people buying sweets and food, drinks, seeing friends and family, and jabbering about how many goals Falcao would score tonight (well…that’s what I was talking about).
As I entered the stadium, with about 45 minutes left before kickoff, the floodlights had yet to be turned on. The sun had set about an hour earlier, and there was just a faint light bouncing off the clouds to the west. In a few minutes though, the light’s came on at full blast, and the two teams soon made their way onto the pitch for warmups.
Atlético’s Ultras showed up early, and the entire area below me, and even some seats in front of me, were filled to the brim with still 25 minutes to go before the start. Only a few Sevilla supporters had made the long trip up on a Sunday evening, so it was really a 99% Atlético crowd.
As Sevilla entered the field, they were showered with whistles and numerous “puta” chants. But despite the fact that Atéltico were having a great season, I could tell that the fans were really placing a lot of importance on this match, against a team in Sevilla with plenty of talented players including the diminutive Jesús Navas, his Spanish strike mate Alvaro Negredo, and the former Atleti and Arsenal F.C. player, Jose Antonio Reyes.
After the playing of Atlético’s hymn, the match began, and there were few chances for both sides early on. Both teams took the better part of 15 minutes to really string many passes together, playing almost too patiently at times.
All of this changed in the 21st minute. Falcao deftly controlled a pass, headed the ball fowards to himself, and was promptly taken down in the box. Right next to him was his Atléti teammate Koke, who was also sumptuously taken down in the box, this time by Sevilla defender Federico Fazio. The referee pointed straight to the spot, and pulled out the red card, leaving Sevilla with 10 men on the pitch to Atlético’s 11.
Falcao took the penalty as a striker in his rich vein of form should; Slammed it down the middle as hard as he could, and as he raced away to celebrate, Atlético Madrid had a 1-0 lead with a man advantage. Not much could make the Vicente Calderón crowd happier.
Buoyed by the goal and man advantage, the home side continued to attack, with Falcao showing off his trademark dribbling ability, and constantly making smart runs, either taking defenders away from his teammates, or causing mass confusion from Sevilla. The Turkish #10 Arda Turan had plenty of time on the ball, and orchestrated the attack all evening, while Diego Costa and the aforementioned Koke had their way on the wings.
It all led to the second goal of the evening, three minutes before halftime, when a speedy counter attack started by Falcao ended with Diego Costa setting up Turan, whose cross towards the far-post run of Falcao was deflected past the Sevilla keeper by his own teammate Emir Spahic. It was 2-0 Atlético, and they were on top of the world.
It showed, when just three minutes later, in first half extra time, Diego Costa controlled a long ball down the right wing, nutmeged his defender, and while the ball popped up into the air, first time’d it over to Koke, who finished with a blistering shot that would have taken the hand off of Andres Palop, the Sevilla goalie, had he tried to stop it. At the half it was 3-0 and the romp was on. It was only a matter of how many more goals we’d see that night, but the crowd, and the team, knew the three points were in the bag.
Now, normally at halftime of a sporting event in America, and every European country I have been to, at least 50% of the fans leave their seats to answer natures call, get some food/drink, or in Europe, to have a smoke. However, in Spain, that number dropped to 20% at the most. Many of the fans had brought home-made bocadillos (sandwiches) to the match, and used the 15-minute long halftime to enjoy some food, and chat with their neighbors at their seat.
As the second half began, it was more of the same for both teams, but with no goals to show for it. Sevilla came out of their shell a bit and had a few attacks on goal, but the defensive partnership in the middle of Diego Godin and Juan Miranda were too much for the Andalucians, who couldn’t afford to send too many men forward.
As the game wore on, Sevilla removed two of their stars playing in the match, Reyes and Navas, to save them from either injury or a red card later in the game.
This proved to be a good point as Antonio Luna was given a straight red card from the bench for what I assume was mouthing off at the ref, and Ivan Rakitic picked up his second yellow on a clumsy stupid challenge in the middle of the field, leaving Sevilla with just nine men for the final ten minutes of the match.
Atlético Madrid finally got back on the board in the second half, when in 90th minute extra time, Miranda knocked home a pass from Turan after Felipe Luis nearly scored on a screamer from 25 yards out. 4-0 was the score, and that’s how it would eventually end, with a very happy home crowd.
Even the cool air that descended on Madrid that night couldn’t take the smile off of my face. It was arguably the best match I had attended so far, with a terrific atmosphere, passionate fans, free-flowing open football, and a win for the home team. I couldn’t have asked for much else.
I’ll be sure to follow Atlético Madrid in the future, and hopefully I’ll be back to don the candy stripe pants with their candy stripe jerseys.
Follow Dan Karell on Twitter: @DanKarell15
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