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Seeing Real Madrid Thrill a Tiny Spanish Town

May 26th, 2018 · No Comments · Champions League, Football, soccer, Spain, World Cup

So, four of us pilgrims set off on the Camino de Santiago this morning, marching 22 kilometers in about seven hours and 37,000 steps.

In other news … the little Spanish town where we halted for the day went slightly crazy tonight as Real Madrid defeated Liverpool 3-1 in an eventful Uefa Champions League final.

Spain is soccer-mad, and being in the same room with 50-some intense and nervous fans jammed into the Casa Cruz tapas bar … was a marvelous cultural activity for the visitors with U.S. passports.

Gareth Bale’s stunning bicycle-kick goal in the 64th minute gave Madrid the lead (and the Casa Cruz fans the chills) as the town’s clearly preferred team again reached the pinnacle of global world soccer.

Our friends from St. Louis joined us as we wedged into a corner of the bar, beneath one of two big-screen TVs. Our Missouri friends were right under the TV, and could not see very well, and across the table the other two of us craned our necks so hard for two hours that we may not be able to walk to the next Camino destination tomorrow.

The Uefa Champions League final is the biggest game in club soccer, and is rivaled in global soccer only by the World Cup final. It is must-see TV in Europe, and especially in Spain, where home-country clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona have won the past five competitions, and seven out of 10 since 2009.

No sports event in the U.S. compares in national significance to the Champions League and Spain. It reinforces the notion that their country produced the best teams (remember the 2010 World Cup, too), which is something to make a local fan feel good about himself.

The game kicked off at 9:15 p.m. here in Portomarin, a lakeside town of 2,000, and long before the match started every table was occupied at Casa Cruz, In the minutes before the game a couple of dozen more fans elbowed their way into the bar and set themselves up in walkways to see the big game game.

As we were seated at the last table, the manager asked us which team we preferred, and we said “Liverpool” and he responded by saying Liverpool was his second-favorite team — just behind Real Madrid. He was being kind; he knew we were English-speakers and assumed we were interested in seeing the English team win.

He demonstrated his allegiance by wearing a jersey with the name Van Nistelrooy on it, recalling the successes of the Dutch forward, who scored 46 goals in 68 matches for Madrid from 2006 into 2010.

When Madrid got the first goal on a horrible mistake by Liverpool’s goalkeeper, the place erupted, making it clear there were few (if any) unbiased observers in the room, including those peering in from the patio windows. Aside from the two of us from Missouri.

(The other two were Liverpool partisans, mostly because of coach Jurgen Klopp and the prolific Egyptian forward Mo Salah, who went off injured after 30 minutes, with a serious shoulder injury that may keep him out of the World Cup.)

Not long after halftime, a local kid entered the bar with a Bale scarf, which seemed curious, considering the Welsh national had been little more than a bit player for Madrid over the past few seasons, follwing his move from Tottenham to Spain, and many fans were becoming annoyed with his modest production.

But the kid looked like he was summoning some karma for Bale when the latter’s overhead kick on a cross went in just under the bar, breaking a 1-1 tie (and sending Caza Cruz into ecstasy), and he added a second in the 83rd minute when Liverpool’s keeper was unable to block a heavy swerving shot that went to the back of the net.

Without canvasing the fans, we can only guess at why they were so pleased for Real Madrid.

–Did it recall the days when Madrid was widely known as Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s team, knowing that the Spanish dictator made clear he was a strong supporter of the capital club — and the wide support for Franco’s forces, in this region, during the Spanish Civil War?

–Does Madrid fill a football fan vacuum, here in the Spanish province of Galicia? The area has several million people and a solid economy, but the nearest Galician club that competes reliably in La Liga is O Coruna, which is on the seacoast, some 50 miles away.

–Or is it the simple fan behavior of following the best team, almost regardless of location? Madrid is about 340 miles from Portomarin, and certainly that is not too far for fans to want to attach themselves to the Real club, winners of four of the past five Champions League titles.

When it was over, there was lusty cheering among the Casa Cruz crowd, and calls for more beers, and as we exited into the night it seemed as if the bar fans were going to be settling in for a long siege of celebration, one we felt more than a little part of, given our attention to the game.

It was great fun to be among them during such a big and eventful game. Almost as good as being in the stadium in Kiev.

In the morning, we push on to the next little town of the Camino trail, Palas de Rei. We may even talk some more about “Madrid 3, Liverpool 1.”



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