On Sunday afternoon, an extra time goal from Roberto Carlos (above) at Recreativo Huelva put Real Madrid in the driver’s seat for the ’06-07 La Liga title. Later that evening, Real’s local rivals did their part to keep Barca’s title hopes alive. The Guardian’s Sid Lowe reviews a glorious day glued to the
Radios pressed to their ears, AtlÃ©tico’s fans had just heard how, after 85 minutes, Ikechukwu Uche had made it 2-2 between Recre and Real Madrid. With time running out and three matches remaining, Sevilla, who’d recovered from 120 minutes of football, 48 hours of hard drinking, and a 72nd-minute goal from Rodolpho Bodipo to beat Deportivo 2-1, were top on 67 points. Madrid and Barcelona were second on 66 each with BarÃ§a still to play. And Valencia, for whom JoaquÃn scored a last-minute winner against Mallorca, were right behind them on 65. Madrid’s challenge had derailed, luck finally deserting them.
Up in their La CoruÃ±a hotel, Sevilla’s players were hopping about and embracing; down in AtlÃ©tico president Enrique Cerezo’s office, Barcelona counterpart Joan Laporta was grinning through a mouthful of pork pies; and out in the rain AtlÃ©ti’s fans were chanting, “whoever doesn’t bounce is a Madridista” and boing-boinging away. Kick-off approached and – against the odds – it was set to be the perfect night.
Long singled out as the match where Frank Rijkaard’s side would lose the title, AtlÃ©ti-BarÃ§a had become a moral dilemma for the colchoneros, a swirl of mixed emotions. Not because they particularly like BarÃ§a – ooh-oohs for Samuel Eto’o and Lilian Thuram, chants against Oleguer Presas and choruses of Y Viva EspaÃ±a showed that – but because they particularly dislike Real Madrid. And because they feared that, yet again, they would unwillingly prove Madrid’s greatest allies, with an AtlÃ©ti victory almost certainly handing their arrogant, gloating neighbours the league.
For some fans the prospect, like Anne Widdecombe getting down and dirty with David Mellor, was just too horrible to even contemplate – maybe even horrible enough to throw the game. All week, the club insisted they’d go all out for victory, Cerezo growing increasingly irritated at the wicked whispers, but the fans weren’t so sure. One poll showed 39% wanted to lose rather than hand Madrid the title, while this column’s unscientific straw poll (which is the only type of straw poll this column is suited to, since scientific experience amounts to scorching Miss Danks with a Bunsen burner) suggested the figure was even higher. One banner employed footballing mathematics to declare the CalderÃ³n “101% Anti-Madridista”, while another was more explicit: “Don’t fuck up my pools coupon: we want an away win.”