As Hugo Duro bore down on the Real Betis goal, he knew it was his moment.
The Copa Del Rey final had been played at blistering pace till then, and Betis had quickly taken the lead in just the 11th minute. On 31 minutes, the ball streamed upfield in a flash, from Carlos Soler to Ilaix Moriba to Duro in 3 seconds.
Then time seemed to freeze. Duro steadied himself in the Betis box, eyeball to eyeball with Claudio Bravo. Sixty-thousand drew their breath. Duro harnessed the finesse of a master calligrapher applying a finishing stroke – while sprinting at full tilt – flicking his left foot to scoop the ball into the net.
It wouldn’t have astonished Los Che fans that it was Duro again coming to the fore. His goals in the quarters and semis of the competition were crucial to Valencia’s appearance in the final.
Yet, the man himself concedes that he has exceeded his expectations since arriving on loan at the start of the season from Getafe, reuniting with coach Jose Bordalas. “I’m surprised with my performances and happy with the results,” he told Batzine in an exclusive interview after the Copa final.
His contribution in the cup final – even if Los Che eventually lost out heartbreakingly on penalties – also marked a bookend for him on a personal level. In season 2018/19, the then Getafe player also played a central role in Valencia’s path to Copa glory, by unwittingly blocking teammate Jorge Molina’s goal-bound shot that would have sent Getafe through instead.
“Toco en Hugo Duro”, or “It hit Hugo Duro”, the Valencia fans would sing in ironic praise. The chant still reverberates around the Mestalla but it is in unreserved adulation of their new hero and all in good humour. Today, he feels fully at home at the Mestalla, and was touched by the support in Seville. “I was so moved by all the fans going to Seville, as well as my family and friends going there to support me.”
Now a firm fan favourite, Duro appreciates the love and has put the Getafe incident behind him. “Things happen,” he told Batzine. “At that time, you cannot believe it, but when I was with Getafe, of course I was sad.”
Experiencing Copa heartbreak as a teen allows the 22-year-old to fully empathise with Yunus Musah, who missed the decisive penalty in this season’s final loss.
“Imagine, he’s just 19. But he’s taking it better than expected,” said Duro. “He knows all the team is with him and he has all our support.”
After the final, Musah said the final is a “starting point” for the team to go on to achieve bigger things. Duro fully agrees. “The first days after the loss were difficult, but now we continue working.”
Having scored another decisive goal at the weekend against Levante in the local derby, you know that Duro – whose surname means “tough” – will keep battling for Los Che.