Almanac Travel and Soccer: Valencia messes with Messi’s Barca

Valencia messes with Messi’s Barca


Travelling in countries where you don’t speak or understand the language, where hotel TV options have few to no English channels and where English language newspapers are rare, it’s easy to miss significant sporting events.


Last weekend in Barcelona, rugby league was played at the Camp Nou for the very first time, drawing a creditable crowd of just over 30,000. Catalans hosted (and defeated) Wigan in the Super League. I stumbled across the game on the hotel’s TV, not realising that it was being played less than 5 kms away. Big Sam Casiano plays for Catalans and was absolutely stoked to play on the same ground that is the home of Messi, Pique, Jordi Alba et al. The language barrier meant that I just didn’t know and so I just didn’t go, missing out on a piece of history for the code.


A variation happened yesterday. We took the train from Madrid to Seville on the next stage of our France/Spain/UK/HK trip. On the platform at Seville, raucous cheering heralded either a demonstration of some kind or a football (of the round variety) crowd. It turned out to be the latter with Seville hosting the Copa Del Rey final between Barcelona and Valencia. Again, don’t know the language, can’t keep up with what’s going on.


So Seville was humming from the train station to the old city, thousands of out-of-town supporters of both clubs wandering around, singing boisterously, drinking heavily and mixing in very friendly fashion. Anne suggested that perhaps she could buy a Barca shirt while I get a Valencia strip as we walked around. I thought that a Spanish national shirt might be safer before remembering that it might not go down so well with the Catalalonia-based Barca.


Even a 9.00pm kick-off couldn’t fully counter a hot evening with the temperature still above Celsius 30 degrees. Short cooling breaks were taken after thirty minutes of each half.


How many Barca players can you name? A few at least, I’m sure. How many Valencia players can you name? When I read their team sheet, none registered. And yet they finished in the top four of La Liga in the season just concluded.


It started as you’d expect – Barca everywhere, Valencia with up to 10 men behind the ball and play almost exclusively at one end. You feared what might happen – not unlike the FA Cup final last weekend. A rare mistake in defence almost cost Barcelona a goal but Pique cleared off the line after his keeper was well beaten. You feared that Valencia might have blown their slim chances early. Barca pressed and pressed but were given little room. Messi was generally well contained but one slight opening gave him a clear shot but he was wide of the mark.


After 20 minutes, a beautiful, well weighted ball from Paulista put Gaya away down the right wing for Valencia. The cross found Gameiro just inside the box. He wrong footed Jordi Alba, created space and blasted past the keeper to put the underdogs ahead against the run of play. Astonishment everywhere – including here in the hotel room!

Barca continued to dominate but were consistently smothered by sometimes well organised, sometimes scrambling defence. But again, against the flow, Valencia were free on the right where Solar’s inch-perfect cross found Rodrigo inside the six yard box  and he headed home with considerable force. Delirium, not least on the Valencia bench; more than a little consternation among the Barca faithful.


With half-time looming, Barca went up a gear and looked likely to score. The defence was frantic. Keeper Jaume made two huge saves within 90 seconds of each other and Valencia hung on to their two goal advantage at the break.


To their credit, Valencia did more than just try to protect their lead in the second half. Although still somewhat dominated in general play, they showed more confidence in their passing game while maintaining their tight defence. For every Barca surge there was a wall of defenders. They held on against a variety of set plays from Barca free kicks. Frustration crept into the Barcelona players, not least Pique.


Valencia were a bit lucky, too, when Pique hit the crossbar and then Messi curled a ball off the outside of his left foot against the post (as only Messi could envisage) only to see it stay out. Eventually, after 73 minutes, the Valencia wall cracked when another Barca shot was kept out, only to fall at the feet of the ever-present Messi who tapped in from three metres.


Suddenly the Barca boys felt they might be able to get another one. They threw everything at the Valencia defence but were continually thwarted. Systems and set plays gave way to frantic and poorly constructed moves while Valencia seemed happy to just belt the ball away as far downfield as possible.


Into added on time, Valencia put Guedes away on a counter attack with only the goalkeeper to beat but he shot wide when he could have iced the game. But valuable seconds were taken off the clock. Barca earned a last minute corner and had all eleven players up. A desperate clearance saw the ball again at the feet of Guedes with 70 metres to goal, no-one in front of him and a couple of despairing Barca players trying unavailingly to get back. Guedes’ attempt at a fifty metre lob went just wide. More seconds off the clock. Hardly time to restart. The final whistle!


Euphoria for Valencia, bewilderment for Barcelona! The mouse roars, David downs Goliath again. Probably the greatest moment to date in the careers of Valencia’s players and, certainly, of their manager Marcelino.


And the other winner was the game.


Quite a few Valencia shirts around town this morning, Barca unsighted.


The caravan moves on. County cricket at Lord’s on Sunday and Origin I at Belushi’s next Wednesday. (Couldn’t quite afford £1000 for a World Cup ticket to see Australia v India!)


Go Queensland!


About Ian Hauser

A relaxed, Noosa-based retiree with a (very) modest sporting CV. A loyal Queenslander, especially when it comes to cricket and rugby league. Enjoys travel, coffee and cake, reading, and has been known to appreciate a glass or three of wine. One of Footy Almanac's online editors who enjoys the occasional editing opportunity to assist aspiring writers.


  1. Terrific match report Ian. Felt like being there (you were). Travel adds that frisson of excitement to everything we do. Makes us young again. Enjoy your travels. You had me until the last line.

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