The line-ups were announced and I immediately thought the worst. For the past month and more I had been optimistic before every match that Betis would be able to turn their fortunes around, put in a display and maybe even score a goal (stranger things have happened).
But this match against a free-scoring Real Madrid, I thought ‘naaaa, no chance’. Even more so when I read that Molinero and Pezzella would be in defence against Ronaldo, James Rodríguez and Benzema. I expected 5-0. Worse maybe.
I wasn’t the only one who expected a trouncing. Alas, have ‘some optimism’ said Colin Millar, ‘o ye of little faith’ he may have muttered under his breath. He was right.
Betis started off the game like a proverbial house on fire, especially in comparison to their last few months of combined performances. With no more than 6 minutes and 21 seconds on the clock, Betis were 1-0 up. It was a momentous occasion. One to be savoured by béticos around the world. Why’s that? Because it had been around 640 minutes, over 10 and a half hours of football, since anyone in the green and white of Betis had found the back of the net. And what a bloody goal it was.
“Un golazo extraordinario,” exclaimed the commentator. It really was.
After a nice break down the left hand side by Fabian, Ruben Castro beared down on goal only to see his shot saved by Keylor Navas. The ball popped up on the edge of the area and was nodded down by Fabian to Alvaro Cejudo who was lurking on the semi circle. Cejudo then proceeded to volley the ball in pristine fashion in the top corner of the net. It did draw a few comparisons to Zidane’s goal in the Champions League Final against Bayer Leverkusen. That may be pushing it slightly, but it was an outstanding goal. Un golazo sin duda.
For the rest of the half Betis ran, worked hard, niggled and generally annoyed Madrid, who were clearly getting frustrated. Ronaldo missed a chance he usually buries, so did Pepe from a corner and there were a couple of shouts for penalties. However, 1-0 it was at half time.
The second half was almost entirely Madrid. Betis looked ragged and players were being pulled out of position as Luka Modric really started to pull the strings, slotting a number of balls through the Betis defence. Los blancos missed a few more chances, one by James from a corner. But Betis could only withstand so much and finally conceded in the 71st minute. The goal however shouldn’t have stood. Modric slid through James, but he was in an offside position. James then squared the ball to Benzema who finished in the open net. Despite Madrid’s pressure and chances created, this one shouldn’t have stood.
I, again rather pessimistically, expected a second and possible third to come from Zidane’s men, but I was wrong. Betis fought hard, found some extra morsels of energy and hung on. Finally the Betis of old. One with grit, determination and desire. A bit of a far cry from the recent Betis under Pepe Mel it has to be said. Rubén Castro could have even snatched a victory at the death after a break away and superb effort from outside the box which looked like it was about to find the top corner.
Juan Merino well done señor. He has definitely had an impact and got the players working for him. I don’t think they’ve put much work into the tactics and defensive positions from set pieces – Betis players often looked like they were marking each other at times – but there’s something there that wasn’t before.
A draw against Villarreal and now a draw against Madrid. Are things starting to turn the corner? We wait and we hope!
Viva el Betis.