El Gran Derbi!

Sevilla 3 v 5 Real Betis (06.01.2018)

There’s nothing like being sacked from your job to welcome in the New Year, and you had to feel for Eduardo Berizzo in this particular instance. Ok, Sevilla’s form hadn’t been great of late, but they had remained unbeaten at home since November 2016, had qualified for the knock-out rounds of the Champions League and were lying 5th in La Liga only two points off Real Madrid in 4th place. Admittedly the away record didn’t make for pretty reading – losing six out of nine, but surely not time to reach for the panic button just yet?

Image: Getty Images

Six weeks earlier,  just as Sevilla had battled back from 3-0 down at half time against Liverpool in the Champions League to salvage a draw, Berizzo had announced his own personal off field battle with prostate cancer.

Three weeks later, and after undergoing surgery in the lead up to the winter break the clubs board kindly waited for Berizzo’s post op recovery before dropping the news that his services were no longer required.

Now I’m not sure there would ever have been a ‘right time’ to sack a manager that was battling through such tough personal circumstances, and Berizzo’s dismissal had the feel of an “it’s not you, it’s me” break up! Either way you have to feel for Berizzo and hope the decision to relieve him of his duties was more health related than performance related.

Image: Elconfidential.com

With that said, one person’s loss is another’s gain, and it was Vincenzo Montella that was thrown into the Sevilla hot seat. It wasn’t quite a Sam Allardyce or Tony Pulis “get us out of this shit” appointment, but the recruitment of Montella certainly raised a few suspecting eyebrows across the city of Seville, and let’s face it the whole of world football! The relatively inexperienced Italian, recently fired at AC Milan had hardly set the world alight after his managerial stints at Sampdoria, Fiorentina and The Rossoneri. Nothing like the pressure of an ‘El Gran Derbi’ in your first La Liga game in charge then!

Comparatively speaking, Real Betis had hardly been pulling up the Sevillian orange trees either, and you could say mid to bottom half of the table seemed standard fayre for the Los Verdiblancos. With an equally poor away record as Sevilla’s – just two wins in eight – and not nearly as impressive at home, Real Betis had recently begun to flirt with the relegation zone. Even so, there had been no smashing of the green and white panic button at the Benito Villamarin!

Onto ‘El Gran Derbi’ then. Saturday 6th January 2018, kick off 20:45.

Two hours before kick-off and the Sevilla fans did their best to let the Sevilla team bus, and the players on board know just how important this fixture was to them. Like a scene from an out of hand bonfire night the bus slowly appeared through a fog of smoke, pyro and fireworks that were being randomly fired into the air.

It might be just me, but I love this sort of thing! From a players perspective it’s hard to imagine that you couldn’t be up for a game like this, especially when you are welcomed to your stadium in such a fashion by your own supporters. Surely you would realise how much this means to the supporters and you’d be determined not to deliver a below par performance for the derby!

 

‘Spanish Larry’ in the middle…

An hour before kick off we were stood outside a bar on ‘Avenue Eduardo Dato’ (which runs parallel to the stadium) enjoying Spanish style vodkas which were really triple vodkas in disguise! We got chatting to a guy that introduced himself as ‘Spanish Larry’! He was a top fella, and he explained to us that any minute now the Real Betis corteo would pass by right in front of us. For those of you not familiar with the term ‘corteo’, it’s effectively a mass marching of away supporters to the stadium often accompanied with a police escort. On this occasion, about 1,000 of the Betico’s finest were paraded down the high street in front of thousands of baying Sevilla fans. No barriers between the pavement and the road where the corteo passed by, no line of riot police separating both sets of fans, just a seemingly respectful barrage of verbal abuse and hand gestures towards each other’s hated rivals!

As we were stood there we couldn’t imagine this corteo thing catching on back in the UK.  Firstly, relaxed Spanish rules on match day allow you to stand outside a boozer drinking from real glasses. Secondly, with no barriers between the two sets of supporters the Betis fans were effectively sitting ducks. Any number of objects could have been launched at them, let alone the glasses that were readily available outside the drinking establishments they were walking past! Can you imagine this happening before the North London derby or say Rangers v Celtic? It would be absolute chaos, or perhaps another more fitting adjective – absolute riots! Impressively the corteo passed by without any major incidents, just a tirade of obscene gestures, swearing and general foaming at the mouth!

From the outside, the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán was beautifully illuminated in the famous red and white colours of Sevilla – very much shades of the Allianz Arena in Munich. The clubs achievements proudly adorn the façade, not least that unbelievable run in the Europa League where they won the competition three seasons in a row (2014, 2015 and 2016).

Shades of the Allianz!…

From the inside, a beautifully prepared thematic tifo covering the entire upper and lower north stand was unveiled by the Biris Norte Ultras just before kick off. It was ‘Three Kings Day” in Spain’ and the tifo depicted the ‘three wise men’ with a slogan stating Sevilla held the footballing honour and glory of the city. No doubt the Betico’s would have something to say about that!

The stunning ‘Three Kings’ tifo unveiled by the Biris Norte Ultras…

Remember I mentioned the out of hand bonfire night that had welcomed the team bus to the stadium two hours previously?! Well clearly that didn’t have the desired effect on the players that the Ultras had intended, and indeed their efforts deserved! After taking kick off Sevilla managed to concede after just 21 seconds and found themselves one nil down before most of the team had even had a first touch of the ball! The Biris Norte ultras  probably wished they’d kept the tifo display up for a little while longer such was the shock that reverberated around the stadium! In all fairness it was a beautifully crafted goal from Real Betis. After quickly over turning possession, four one touch passes later and Fabian Ruiz found space on the edge of the box and curled home a magnificent strike.

You could imagine Montella’s translated team talk moments before sending the boys out:  “Ok lads, it’s my first La Liga game in charge….let’s keep it tight at the back, minimize their chances and let our quality, creativity and attacking flair in the final third bring home the three points”! The translator must have been having a laugh!

That early goal certainly set the tone for the rest of the game, and what unfolded was one of the most unbelievable and entertaining games I have ever seen live! A cagey derby day game of cat and mouse this certainly wasn’t!

With the number of incidents that occurred in this game I could write reams and reams, but I’ll free up some valuable minutes of your time and leave you with my potted version instead! Here we go.

Sevilla responded quickly to that early set back and levelled after 12 minutes – Ben Yedder with a deft touch neatly deflecting the set piece delivery over the keeper and into the far corner.  Eight minutes after that and Sevilla went behind again – this time Zouhair Feddal with a superb diving header from a quite sublime set piece delivery from Betis legend Joaquin. A better cross you will do well to see!

Although behind, Sevilla were still in the ascendency and it felt like it was only going to be a matter of time until they scored again. The anticipated equaliser came just before half time, Kjaer heading home from close range on 40’. A breath-taking first half of football finished 2-2 at the break.

In the second half, Betis scored twice in three minutes on 63’ and 65’ through Durmisi and Sergio Leon to go 4-2 up. Lenglet pulled another goal back for Sevilla two minutes later to make it 4-3. A header from Nzonzi then crashed against the Betis bar a few moments later, and at this point you could sense gamblers across Europe lumping on 5-4 Sevilla in the ‘in play’ markets!

Real Betis were holding on though, and as the game reached injury time Sevilla were desperately trying to grab a point from the jaws of defeat. In the 94th minute Sevilla were awarded a set piece in a dangerous position on the right flank. Up came the goalkeeper! The crowd were waiting with bated breath in anticipation of a dramatic late finish. What they weren’t anticipating was such a poor set piece delivery which saw the ball get cleared out to the halfway line. Some comical defending between Escudero and Ever Banega somehow saw Tello manage to break free and start racing towards goal. The comedy defending that had occurred on the half way line only a few seconds earlier had at least provided enough time for the Sevilla goalkeeper to make it back to the penalty area. With plenty of time to consider his options Tello coolly slotted past the keeper at the near post to kill the game off in the 95th minute. 5-3, and the Beticos were in dreamland!

The history of one of Spain’s most passionate derbies will show you that it’s not often that Real Betis come out on top in ‘El Gran Derbi’, especially away from home. Boy did the players and fans enjoy celebrating this one in Sevilla’s own back yard! History is there to be rewritten after all!

A big ‘muchas gracias’ to Seville for providing me with one of the most memorable football weekends I’ve ever had!

If Cruzcampo did derbies….

I never realised just how big ‘that’ mosaic was at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan!!…

Images from the Estadio Benito Villamarin:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of random city shots:

Match highlights:

 

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