Thursday, August 18

Muniain emerges from the wild night to show why the Basque derby is different | the league


WWhen the final whistle sounded at the end of the Basque derby, Iker Muniain hugged the referee and pushed his way through the noise and rain directly towards Alex Remiro. By the time he got there, Iñaki Williams was already hugging the goalkeeper and soon more Athletic players arrived to comfort him. The clock had struck 90.47 when Remiro made the mistake that cost his team victory and there was little consolation, just a lost expression, but that didn’t stop them from trying. “I tried to cheer him up, to give him affection, to tell him that he’s fine, that it doesn’t matter,” Muniain said, standing by the court still catching his breath.

Muniain and Alex Remiro are no longer teammates. Remiro is the Real Sociedad goalkeeper, Muniain, the Athletic captain, whose shot had just passed him and entered the net to put it 1-1 at the end of a wet and wild night. And if anyone knew it did matter, especially this Sunday, it was them. That’s why they were together when he finished, Muniain put a hand on Remiro’s shoulder and searched for the right words. A doorman who admits that bad times always follow you home, Remiro’s gaze, meanwhile, revealed that he will follow him further. The first league goal Real have conceded at home this season could hardly have come at a worse time.

The slate was rising in a Basque derby that was how it was supposed to be at last, the first played in front of the fans in 630 days, when it happened. Real Sociedad won 1-0, Alexander Isak had scored from the starting point of the second half, and Athletic were left with 10 men. Better still for the local fans, it was Iñigo Martínez, the one who had abandoned them and crossed the dividing line, who had given away the penalty – the sixth he has conceded in Athletic, three of them against his old club – and who had been sent off . When the card was shown, Remiro had jumped into the air celebrating. Now the fans were doing the same. Backs turned to the field, arms together, bounced.

How they had missed this. “This is the game that I hope to win more than any other and that is true for all those who feel like Real Sociedad,” coach Imanol Alguacil had said the day before while it rained heavily in Zubieta, and this time especially. There have been three games in the last 18 months, of course, but it was not the same, not even when one was the most historic Copa del Rey final there has been. This was demonstrated by Athletic and Real, insisting on postponing the final. Few, if any, would have waited that long for their people to come in, knowing that’s the point.

Now here they were again, miles better late than never. Sunday started with the verse derby, the Song of Basque street poetry won by Athletic or La Real according to the newspaper you read, and ended with 21 players on the pitch, of which 18 he had been through the youth systems at one of these two clubs. The fans drank together and sat together. Tickets were sold out and the Reale Arena had 37,066 spectators, the highest attendance in its history. And they sang the club anthem, holding up a typhus in blue and white and the colors of the Ikurriña, the Basque flag. Then they played, the noise never abated.

It had been frantic, fast, and if there wasn’t much football, it had also been quite fun, the tension and ferocity making up for what it lacked in subtlety. Athletic had more shots, 11 to eight, and more corners, eight to two. Remiro had made three strong saves. And Aritz Elustondo had produced two superb interceptions to deny Williams, the first after just sixty-two seconds. But the threat hadn’t been overwhelming at all, in fact, it had only been apparent occasionally, and now it seemed to have passed. Martín Zubimendi was in command, the defense had been strengthened and the Real Sociedad, champion of the Copa del Rey, was on the verge of defeating its rivals again and tracing three points ahead, perhaps confirming its candidacy for the title. Only once had they reached week 11 in more points and now they were about to add three more, accumulating a eighth clean sheet in 12 league games.

The Real Sociedad fans cheer on their team before the game.
The Real Sociedad fans cheer on their team before the game. Photograph: Juan Herrero / EPA

Bad Moon Rising was spinning on the floor, scarves spinning. Tell me how it feels, the opening line runs. But then Athletic got a free kick in the upper left corner of the area, Julen Lobete fouled Muniain when he cut inside. Muniain set the ball. “He was wet. I wanted to hit hard and on target, thinking someone might deflect it, “he said,” Remiro tried to clear it, but those kinds of balls are difficult. ” His shot leaned toward the near post and the Real Sociedad goalkeeper lunged forward, fists out like Superman. Instead of throwing a punch, however, he misjudged the flight, his own and the ball’s, and went from his knuckles to the top edge of the net. It was minute 91 and 1-1.

In the upper corner of the field, 543 Athletic fans went crazy. Around him, perhaps a hundred more did the same, figures in red and white leaping from within the blue and white sea. Muniain ran to the bench, which was running towards him, and jumped into the arms of Marcelino García Toral. His players had resisted again, they have only been defeated once this season, and the Athletic coach wore a huge smile. They had deserved it, he said later. “The draw hurts but I’m proud,” insisted his counterpart Imanol Alguacil.

No one was more hurt than Remiro. By midweek, Australian goalkeeper Matty Ryan had put in an astonishing performance for Celta in just his second league appearance of the season. Remiro had immediately returned to the side, but now this had happened and against them, a derby decided by two men who crossed sides. On Sunday night, Iñigo Martínez, a former Real Sociedad player, had been sent off and given the penalty that seemed to have given his former club victory, and the fans laughed as he left. And Remiro, a former Athletic player, had given his old club the draw.

Not that the cases are exactly the same. Born in Navarra, raised in Lezama, Remiro never played a first team match with Athletic. One Friday afternoon after training in 2018, they called him into a room with the then Athletic president, Josu Urrutia, and the former sports director José Mari Amorrutu, and they told him that if he did not sign a new contract he would not play. Kepa was leaving, an opportunity was opening, but Remiro had been loaned twice and he was not convinced that the opportunity was real. The pressure helped him make a decision: Instead of bowing down to her, he decided to leave, even if it meant a season without playing. With Iago Herrerín injured, Unai Simón, the fourth goalkeeper who would soon become the first of the club and the national team, was hastily withdrawn from his assignment in Elche where he had only been 20 days and Athletic fulfilled the threat: Remiro was excluded.

A year later, he joined the Royal Society. When he won the Copa del Rey with them, defeating Athletic in the final, he posted a video that emulated Williams’ “I’m so tired” celebration of the Super Cup three months earlier. It didn’t seem like a big problem, but it soon became one. Remiro insisted that he only thought it’s a funny line, who was not making fun of Williams and apologized to the Athletic players when they met in the league immediately afterward. “Some said I was off duty, some said they didn’t care, and some said they didn’t care about it, but I felt embarrassed,” he later admitted. “I didn’t like watching the video, but I learned from him: don’t be an idiot the next time there is a moment of euphoria.”

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Real Sociedad 1-1 A Bilbao, Getafe 2-1 Espanyol, Atlético Madrid 3-0 Real Betis, Cádiz 1-1 Mallorca, Barcelona 1-1 Alavés, Valencia 2-0 Villarreal, Sevilla 2-0 Osasuna, Elche 1-2 Real Madrid

Monday Rayo Vallecano v Celta Vigo, Levante v Granada

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The next time they met, she was anything but euphoric. Remiro looked devastated, without eyes. Teammates approached him, Diego Rico literally lifted his chin, but it was like he was lost. “He is devastated by the way the goal happened. His mistake is the most visible but it was a series of mistakes, ”said Zubimendi. “He kept us alive until the end: he made great saves,” insisted Alguacil, “that is football: doing it right and doing it wrong. Today he did it well many times and only once he did it wrong. He is a professional and there is no doubt that tomorrow he will be ready for the next game again ”. Even the former Real Sociedad goalkeeper Sander Westerveld, there the last time he He started a season this well, leading the league early, not losing until February, against Athletic, inevitably, and chasing down the line, support offered.

Neither of which is especially unusual, but they weren’t the first in Remiro, the symbol of a rivalry that is still different from the rest. Instead, it was Iñaki Williams and Iker Muniain, the Athletic captain who had stood up and applauded Real as he lifted the trophy at the end of the cup final they had waited their whole lives, and whose shot flew past Remiro the night fans finally returned to make the derby the kind of day it’s supposed to be.




www.theguardian.com

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