Barcelona in fifth place needed to win and Valencia in fourth just needed a draw to go into the Champions League. Cool night in Spain, the day before near ninety, rain fell off and on in the first half. Most of the crowd seemed dressed for church, especially the older folks in their Sunday best, chilling like saints and wanting to be treated as such by Barca. I sat in anticipation. Watched them warm up and tried to picture myself out there on the field.
In the opening minutes--Rivaldo, they would chant his name often, stepped up from near thirty five yards and bent the free kick into the lower right, hitting the inside of the post. Up and over the wall and then the ball diving down. The crowd roared. Cameras flashed across the stadium.
Valencia drew even twenty minutes later on a open header off a corner killing the energy of the Barca team. But not lessening the eager focus of the fans who didn’t want to miss anything--vicarious to an extreme and demanding. Telling the players to fuck off at will. In Spanish of course.
Barca played through Rivaldo as much as possible. After his goal he split two defenders before being taken down, and on another occasion he chipped the ball over a defender’s head and dribbled on--and he seemed always looking for his shot, no matter where he was on the field..
Barca pushed the ball to Klivert’s feet to get out of pressure, or with diagonal early crosses when looking to score. Although the Valencia defenders usually won out on the headers from these long balls.
Barcelona often found Overmar´s feet too or tried over the top, to take advantage of his speed, leading him into the corner. Valencia usually dropped a defender over to help, as Overmar always took people on. Cutting inside and out, or he turned after receiving a hard pass to his feet, then blazing inside Late in the game almost getting the winner, clear on the top of the box after slashing across the middle he hit a soft shot, trying too hard it seemed to place it delicately it went right to the keeper.
Two amazing teams. Fans stood up every now and then to bitch at someone, Rivaldo held on to the ball too long (pasalo) or Klivert lost it and they bitched at the players they loved but were quick to hate if they failed to live up to their expectations.
Valencia seemed to have more of a fight, winning balls in the middle and then playing to a tall lanky Norwegian who was smooth and strong on the ball.
The crowd urged the Barca team, cheering when they escaped out of danger or made a tough tackle.
I sat next to a Swede who got a ticket from the same man I did. Although phoning him before the game. Me, passing through the gate on his electronic card for members-season ticket holders a bit concerned as to what kind of ticket I was really getting.
At times Klivert played great through balls to Overmars but also played the play to nobody and out of bounds on a few occasions. He was replaced with fifteen minutes left to ninety thousand jeers and whistles, ducking quickly and sadly into the tunnel directly off the field ripping his jersey off, head down. He has had a difficult season I’ve heard. Zindin came on for him, another Dutchman French international Petit came on a little earlier and immediately tackled hard and gave the team a lift--changed the game, really..
Momentum seems to be an integral part of any kind of success. Where you find it is the hard part. With a substitution, with the crowd, with someone working hard for the team. Finding the flow when there ain’t none in any situation is a gift. The ability to instill confidence in the group when things are down and not flowing.
Klivert lost his focus and had to be taken off, perhaps the crowd getting to him a bit. Overmars cut a ball back to him late in the half and he miss hit the ball near the front of the goal, kind of clipping the ball and it tailed off to the side, it was a great chance. After he missed he tried to win the ball and collided hard with the defender hurting his arm it appeared, over compensating all game for his uneasiness. The crowd whistled at him….again and again.
No space being wasted in the stadium--even my seat three tiers up one had a good view. Before the end of the half Barca broke the tie with Rivaldo setting his left foot up with a few feints, first controlling a square pass dug out by Overmars and then hesitating a few moments at the top of the box to smack a low shot into the right corner. The keeper too late.
Opening the second half Valencia drew even again off a header from an early cross. Two minutes into the half just as I walked up the steps to my sit with a coffee. The game now 2-2 and the crowd restless. Tired of the teams’ lull, in the past season they lost out in the Champions League and did not win the league as is always expected here. All game long the Barca players seemed to hear this, hurrying the Valencia goal kicks, rushing to retrieve balls out of bounds, trying to make amends and appease the saints in the crowd.
Twenty minutes or so remained. Valencia stalled. Arrogantly booting the ball away on fouls. Their goal keeper, a character, with his bleached white hair and careless confidence took his time walking to the ball on goal kicks and the fans tried to pelt him with plastic bottles or beer cans. He stopped and picked them up and arrogantly threw them back against the side paneling and wasted more time. He’d been through this before. Relished it even.
After a hard two footed tackle by Petit near his own goal, overall he was great at winning the ball and then playing a simple pass, the tall Norwegian forward lay on the ground holding his ankle. Actually hurt and not just wasting time.
At the other end Barca waited to take a corner. The crowed jeered, and the cart came on with the stretcher for the Norwegian forward, they drove quickly to the sidelines where the fans stood and yelled at the injured player.
With about three minutes remaining Barca found Rivaldo once again. After a quick dribbling run by Overmars he laid off to Deboers who chipped near the top of the box to Rivaldo. With his back turned to the goal he chested the ball to himself and scored on bicycle kick. Yes, a bicycle kick.
The crowd stood the remaining minutes. Barca battled now for the headers and loose balls and cleared the ball deep into the corners. A fan rushed onto the field, running towards Rivaldo but was steered away by another player and ran back to his seat, the guards not even taking him away. The ball came to the Barca coach out of bounds and he juggled the ball a few times before the Valencia coach and their bench players grabbed it and a fight almost broke out--the ref gave both coaches yellows. The final whistle blew and at first a few people rushed the field and then all, I don’t really know how the players escaped so quickly. I saw one player give a fan his jersey. The fans took over the field and over the loudspeaker they played the team song that seemed to calm the crowd finally. They chanted Rivaldo in a sing song manner. Amazing game. Historic game. Rivaldo “dios por el dia”.
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