|Real Betis (1)||Valencia (1)|
|Borja Iglesias 11′||Hugo Duro 30′|
Just as the darkest Sevillan clouds gave way to the sun on the day of the Copa final, this young Valencia team will shine bright orange again. And what a new era it will be, powered by the Los Che faithful, who like legions of calvary claimed the 60,000-capacity Estadio de La Cartuja as the Mestalla.
Yet there will be sorrow in the offing, like tonight’s Copa Del Rey final. Alas, the stars of the Andalusian midnight sky would not commission Valencia’s 9th Copa triumph. Despair gripped the Che as Yunus Musah’s shootout kick sailed over the crossbar at the Betis end. Anguish overwhelmed as Juan Miranda scored the winner.
As former Valencia player Joaquin lifted the grandiose trophy, surely there would have been niggling thoughts of what might have been.
Indeed, every player in white did what they could in the hope of glory. Carlos Soler said pre-match that the Bats were going to leave everything out there on the pitch. They did.
Nonetheless, the young team took time to settle into the game. Panic from the press stands over the lack of Wi-Fi seemed to transmit to the field. Mouctar Diakhaby, one of 3 central defenders, was caught dawdling on the ball by the hounding Borja Iglesias, who proved a constant menace.
Unsurprisingly, it was Iglesias who knocked a header in on minute 11, after Hector Bellerin found space for a cross. Nabil Fekir, Juanmi and Sergio Canales popped up like enterprising critters in a Whack-A-Mole game, often leaving Valencia players swinging in vain.
But Los Che soon found their footing. From deep, Soler drew the attention of two Betis players before knocking the ball into Ilaix Moriba, who surged from slumber into acres of grass and released Hugo Duro one-on-one. The pattern of play was intricate as an azulejo tile, and Duro dinked it in place. 1-1 and game on.
The tide had turned, and players like Diakhaby and Dimitri Foulquier found new impetus, shepherding balls out of play expertly and finding joy on the right. Foulquier, in particular, displayed the elan of a scruffy street boxer with his dogged drive and powerful gait.
While Betis hit the post just before half-time, Los Che carried their initiative into the 2nd half, with Duro lofting over from close range. The only gaiety the Valencia end had, however, was when Gabriel Paulista’s speculative shot hit an unsuspecting steward in the back, adding levity to the occasion.
Our midfield was being overrun, with Hugo Guillamon looking leggy as he misplaced passes and arrived late to tackles. A Betis grounder hit Giorgi Marmadashvili’s right post in the 77th minute, but our Georgian stood tall throughout, making important saves.
Bryan Gil added verve when he came on, and his drive led to a 90th minute blocked Soler shot that could have been the winner. Valencia just kept at it even as fatigue set in. Paulista, who was an injury doubt, sprawled to the ground at every interval in extra time, while Soler was pressing near the opposition penalty box in the 117th minute.
Come the penalty shootout, Mamardashvili nearly became a hero as he got a hand to Joaquin’s shot, which frustratingly nestled in. Then up stepped Musah, the world on the US international’s shoulders. Opting for power, he skied his shot. But the 19-year-old displayed tremendous guts and responsibility and we must support him through this cruel time.
In fact, the teen embodies the next generation of Valencia’s stars, and there is a core there in Mamardashvili, Hugo Guillamon, Duro and Correia that promises much.
“Oh Valencia yo te quiero, equipo Bronco y Copero!” sing the Valencia fans, an ode to their love for the team’s fighting spirit. This young team will do what it takes to win trophies, which leads fans like Eduardo Cifre to keep believing. Cifre, who made the 6-hour drive from Valencia, said despite his disappointment: “Fight, strength and sacrifice till the last minute, we showed that today.”
For Jose Bordalas and his men, the Los Che cause is always worth fighting for. He said: “These (Valencianistas) are working-class people, whose life is Valencia CF, and they deserve a boost from us, because they are people who give everything for their team. I have seen this from the first day that I arrived, and my dreams are directed at doing it for them and not me.”
Seville today is but a blip. Like the city’s impressive art structure Las Setas, known as the Mushrooms of the Incarnation, this Valencia team will too magnificently bloom. Bronco y copero never dies.