|Valencia (4)||Real Madrid (1)|
|Carlos Soler 35′ (P), 54′ (P), 63′ (P)|
Raphael Varane 43′ (OG)
|Karim Benzema 23′|
Carlos Soler and penalties – a match made in heaven. Thibaut Courtois will surely have nightmares of the Spaniard tonight.
After his 99th-minute equaliser against Getafe last week, Soler once again displayed his nerves of steel against champions Real Madrid, scoring a treble of spot kicks to claim a crucial 4-1 victory at the Mestalla.
The superb win broke Valencia’s four-match winless streak and came after a wild and crazy night of football, showcasing Los Che’s best qualities while posing questions for the future.
But first, the good news. The Bats picked up from last week’s spirited comeback, as good passing spells dovetailed with solid defensive work.
Even without the Covid-19-stricken duo of Casemiro and Eden Hazard, Los Blancos were dangerous. Real was always going to threaten and grab a goal or two. And they did. Karim Benzema, so often our scourge, rifled in a shot in the 23rd minute after a smart reverse by Marcelo.
Javi Garcia’s team responded with verve and passion. Jose Gaya, so effervescent all night, forced a handball from makeshift right-back Lucas Vazquez in the box on the half-hour mark. What ensued lurched from optimism, to gut-wrenching, to ecstasy.
In a span of five seconds, Soler saw his penalty saved and scuffed the rebound against the post, before Yunus Musah fired the loose ball high into the net.
But celebrations were cut short as VAR deemed the 17-year-old to have encroached the area before the penalty was taken. Goal ruled out. Penalty retaken.
Soler must have felt a sense of deja vu as he faced a second high-stakes penalty in two games. No matter – he coolly slotted his shot into the bottom left corner. 1-1.
Valencia then grabbed the lead in bizarre fashion in the 43rd minute. The tireless Maxi Gomez attempted a cross, which was inadvertently turned across the line by Raphael Varane.
But another nervy VAR check awaited, after the ball had bounced out of goal. The footballing gods smiled on Valencia – devoid of laughter for most of this season – for the second time. Triumphant yells filled the empty Mestalla as the hosts took the lead going into the half-time break.
A pulsating first half had delighted Valencia fans, but the second half had even more drama in store.
When referee Gil Manzano blew for another penalty in the 54th minute after Marcelo clattered into Gomez, Courtois must have felt sick.
For the third time, the Belgian custodian guessed correctly, but Soler’s shot brushed past his fingers, creeping into the bottom right corner.
Despite a two-goal deficit, Real remained sprightly and Valencia’s backline had to repel attacks all night long.
The climax came barely 10 minutes later, when Sergio Ramos did his best impression of a volleyball player inside his own box to complete Real’s defensive disaster. It was the first time Real Madrid had conceded three penalties in a LaLiga game and its biggest loss to Valencia since 2009.
Reckless Real may have gifted Valencia with three penalties but Los Che still needed to stay solid for the rest of the game. Uros Racic was the standout as the midfielder hassled and bossed the midfield in the second half to ensure Real didn’t mount an unlikely comeback.
“My knee hurt, but I didn’t want to stop. If I don’t have legs afterwards, I don’t care,” said the big man.
Soler also made history after becoming the first player in the 21st century to score three spot kicks in a Spanish league match.
More than records were at stake. The critical win propelled Garcia’s men to 9th and sets them up nicely for an international break. But the question for most fans is: can they maintain this form?
Said man of the match Soler: “We got an important victory and we deserved it. Now we must look ahead and prepare for what comes.”