February 24, 2006

An evening with the stars of Real Madrid

Thomas Kieller

Photo – Copyright David R. Anchuelo (Real Madrid)

David Beckham and Roberto Carlos celebrate after a goal.

Week after week, Madrid’s downtown livens under Real’s influence. The wild race for the Spanish championship is always going on. The natives of Madrid know it. About 70,000 spectators came, September 22, 2005, to the Santiagio Bernabéu stadium to see the top players of Real Madrid play against Athletic Bilbao. You should know that the Spaniards like to enjoy life at night. The match started at 22:00. True, the night-birds went out to have fun.

Believe me; a game under the moon assures an overwhelming atmosphere. The open stadium gives an excellent view of the bright green grass under a black sky. What a contrast. The benches high up give a massive aspect to the building and help to bring together all the supporters. When the place is sold out and the fans shout themselves hoarse a gripping effect is assured.

Besides, it’s preferable to arrive a little bit earlier to see the training session. No doubt that one of the attractions is the elegant David Beckham. That night, the ex-player of Manchester United was preparing himself with the young Brazilian Robinho who is also a show by himself. I can guarantee that to see these two together making passes and controlling the ball will give you pleasure. They have a disconcerting agility.

Before Real and Athletic crossed swords, the players marched under a song from an opera while the fans shouted their heads off. Astounding. After all the preparations, the players of Madrid, dressed all in white, were ready to overcome the underdog team coming from the north of Spain.

To everybody’s surprise, the first half was all to the advantage of the Basques. The visitors were playing collectively. Luck quickly turned in their favour when the strike of Etxeberria veered off Jonathan Woodgate to end up in Real’s goal. It froze the crowd. The misfortune turned to drama for Woodgate when a little bit later he kicked into the thigh of a Bilbao player. The referee showed him immediately a yellow card. The Englishmen deserved it! The discouraged supporters fell into a lethargic mood. Silence prevailed.

At half-time, Real’s coach did not hesitate to make the necessary modifications to the attack and in midfield. He brought Raúl to the forefront by positioning him to the right of Ronaldo. Then his best move, the introduction of Guti created a new quartet in the center of the field with Beckham, Robinho and Pablo García. Guti immediately lit up the team with his passion and electrical dynamism.

At the 52nd minute, Beckham opened the play with a speedy incursion. Only Lacruz was able to stop the Londoner by cutting his legs off. Worst scenario for the Bilbao. A yellow card for Lacruz and a free kick for Beckham at 25 meters from the goal! Without flinching, the Englishmen ran up to the ball. As if with a compass in his eye, he targeted the head of the young Robinho who redirected the ball into the net. Spontaneous excitement rose in the crowd. On the luminous screens, one could read in Spanish: “Gool”. Real was reborn.

The stars were now awake. At the 64th minute, it was Ronaldo’s turn to burst onto the scene. Arriving in the penalty area, he passed the ball to his teammate Raúl. The native of Madrid fired a solid shot beating the goalkeeper Aranzubia. 2 to 1 for Real.

Afterwards, Woodgate roughed up an adversary in a choppy play. The referee showed him a second yellow card, then the red card. Exit Woodgate! This was just too much sensation for the supporters of Real who could not control themselves anymore. Nearly 50,000 persons started to whistle simultaneously to contest the referee’s decision. Nothing to calm down the palpitations of the heart.

Even if Real had only ten players on the field, the fans got back rapidly into the match by cheering one of their favourite, Roberto Carlos. Known as one of the great gunners worldwide, he roused the crowd with a terrific strike 35 meters from the goal. The Athletic’s goalkeeper could only deflect the ball!

Real did not give their last word. Beckham, holder of a Ph.D. in corners, delivered a direct ball into the penalty area. Raúl, well placed in front of two opponents, jumped to connect the ball with his head. Second goal for Raúl; he had something to party about.

Frustrated by the outcome, the Bilbao’s players provoked numerous scuffles. They went for Guti, the element which released the resurrection of Real. The atmosphere was heated. The crowd was shouting and was excited. Too little too late for the Athletic. Real won the match 3 to 1.

Despite a hesitant start, Real Madrid created much excitement. From silence to exaltation, the crowd appreciated the match. The stars played a hard game up to the end. By waving to the crowd, the players of Real thanked the supporters for their presence. Beckham went behind the net to give his jersey to a cheerful spectator. At midnight under a dark sky, the fans were bubbling over with joy. The evening was a success. And for many Spaniards, it was going to continue in the nightclubs and pubs.