DIiego Simeone was not looking at the moment when his destiny fell into his hands again. After 35 grueling weeks, every second of every game scratching at the nerves, the tension had become too much even for him. On Saturday afternoon, Atlético de Madrid drew 0-0 at the Camp Nou; On Sunday night, Real Madrid took on Sevilla in Valdebebas, gave them a chance to reach the top for the first time in seven months and finally released control of Atlético in first place five months later, but was not going to tune in to see the title decided. . When the drama unfolded, his destiny was defined, he was having dinner. Or so he claimed.
“I have not been watching the other games; I’ve had a bad time, ”said the Atlético coach before leaving Catalonia for home, his team is no longer in control of the closest three-point title race that has ever existed. “Nothing will change if I look at it. Instead, I’ll have dinner with my family. I’d rather not watch. “When the time came, at 10:30 p.m. the following night, others felt the same, his Barcelona counterpart, Ronald Koeman, admitted that he turned around, but for the rest it was impossible to look away as the last absurdly improbable chapter unfolded, everyone watching – a man staring at a small screen.
This is the league that keeps on giving. And removing. And then give back again. The league? The leaguesIf every time they said that a win, a loss, a save or a miss was “half league”, in fact it was, hundreds of them would have already been distributed. It’s hard to keep up, all those decisive moments still without deciding anything, so many turning points that you no longer know which direction you’re facing but you know it seems familiar, they all live to fight another day until the last of them, so close now . So far too.
Simeone called the title race “fantastic”, even if he wasn’t going to see it; “Hitchcockian”, said El País. Every week there seems to be some twist, some what ifbut this week it was one more step again, everything was getting a little silly now. It had already been announced as the week that would decide everything, the four contenders faced – first against third, second against fourth – with only two points among the first three, six between all and three games to play. Now, a single second would decide, or so it seemed.
There were 13 minutes left and there were three more games left but for the two hundred people inside Valdebebas and the millions who They were Watching from home, it felt like the entire season had come down to hers. One decision, one shot, the fate of four teams in the hands of one man. It was 1-1 between Madrid and Seville and there were two penalties. One in the Madrid final, one in Sevilla. In the middle, standing on the VAR screen, it was Juan Martínez Munuera’s turn to decide which one to give, to whom he was going to give the title.
Éder Militão had jumped to clear a Sevilla corner and the ball hit his outstretched arm, a photo made him look like Hamlet mourning Yorick’s death. Martínez Munuera had not seen it and Madrid broke down, Sevilla suddenly exposed. Vinícius broke free at the edge of the area and made Karim Benzema run, alone. From the middle of the road he headed to the area, where Yassine Bono shot him down. Running after him, Martínez Munuera pointed to the place. From one extreme and from a penalty to the other in 15 seconds.
Madrid had found a way again, the League in their own hands. But Martínez Munuera had his finger in his ear, the title on hold. The VAR screen is called up and players are instructed to back off. as if you were examining a suspicious package, he looked alone and exposed, knowing that everything was in him now, damn if he did, damn if you didn’t. Around Valdebebas the players and staff screamed, their lives on the line down there. Sergio Ramos’s voice boomed, the two teams vying for the referee’s attention. It was a clear handball. It was not a handball. There was some pantomime about it, the pressure was mounting.
You are the referee, what do you do? A: panic. B: run away and hide. C: retire. D: restart with a drop-ball. In all, it took a minute. And what Martínez Munuera did was turn, draw a screen with his fingers and point to the right, to the Madrid area. In all the noise, the pressure, the waiting – from the second penalty taken to the first penalty taken, four minutes passed – and in the face of Thibaut Courtois, a giant figure, with open arms, Ivan Rakitic remained calm . roll the ball into the net.
“This sanction is going to bring with it a terrible literature in the coming weeks,” Jorge Valdano said, but it was not over yet. Six minutes were added. With the clock at 93.41, Toni Kroos fired a shot that deflected off Eden Hazard’s heel and entered. And then at 95.30, Casemiro took a shot that went just over the post. At the final whistle, Zinedine Zidane chased the referee for an explanation. Not far away, Luka Modric said: “Today we missed two points. We wanted to depend on ourselves. “
That opportunity disappeared, after the significance of the Kroos / Hazard goal went momentarily unnoticed, but it could still be huge, a goal that took them back over Barcelona and means Atlético only need to draw one of their last three games. to win the title. back in the hands of Madrid. It also means the end of any small hopes Sevilla had: a victory would have left them one point behind Madrid, two behind Barcelona and four behind Atlético. “If we had won, we would have been there; now we have to be realistic, ”Rakitic admitted.
Instead, the table looks like this:
On Tuesday, Barcelona will go to Levante. On Wednesday, Atlético face Real Sociedad at home and Sevilla face Valencia. On Thursday, Madrid will go to Granada.
Then the last two weeks, this Sunday and next, are:
Atlético: Osasuna (h), Valladolid (who may be struggling to survive, a).
Madrid: Athletic (a), Villarreal (three days before the final of the Europa League, h).
Barcelona: Celta (a), Eibar (who may already be down but has been given a chance to fight for survival, a).
Sevilla: Villarreal (a), Alavés (which you can be sure by then, but could be struggling to survive, h).
“Anything can happen,” Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué said after Saturday’s draw with Atlético. In a normal season, I might not have said it, but this is not a normal season. Every time you think it’s done, it’s not done. Somehow, they are still there. Somehow none of them pull away, as if they all run to stay still, turning points push them back again. Everyone is nervous, the margins are absurdly good.
Witness Sevilla get the tying goal in the 94th minute from their goalkeeper. Barcelona scored the tying goal in the 90th minute against Valladolid and saw a last-minute shot just above Madrid, who in turn needed two in the last quarter of an hour against Osasuna, a winning goal in the 91st minute against Elche and a lap of 29 seconds. in the derby. Atlético need a last-minute penalty to hit the post to beat Elche, and another stopped by Jan Oblak in the 85th minute to defeat Alavés. And all that just in the last six weeks.
“The only thing Atlético has to do now is win three more games, but that’s not something they have done since January; It’s not something either of them is finding easy now, crawling to the finish line with their tongues hanging out. Madrid have drawn three out of five, Barcelona have won three out of six, Sevilla have lost and drawn in a week. The more decisive he becomes, the less decisive they have been, as if no one wants to win this when in reality everyone is desperate to do so. And here they are still, let go and go back in.
Sunday night marked 14 days since the fate of Atlético escaped them for the first time with a defeat in the 86th minute against Athletic, 10 since Barcelona returned it by losing 2-1 at home to Granada and seven since Sevilla were caught in the last minute. Goal by Iñaki Williams, just when they could really be contenders. It was one since Barcelona missed the opportunity to move to a position from which Koeman said they would win the League and Atlético did not back away, handing over control to the rivals that both fear the most. Now Madrid had missed that opportunity but rescued a precious late point, still furious at the decision that was denied them.
“That could cost us the league,” Marco Asensio said. “At least you’re smiling,” the touchline reporter told Zidane at the end. “Yes,” he replied, “but I’m very angry.” Julen Lopetegui insisted that he was proud of his players. As for Koeman, the next morning he said that he had not seen him. “I watched the first 25 minutes, but then I switched to Juventus-Milan because I get nervous seeing the other teams,” he said, also speaking for Simeone. At about 600km, the Atlético coach did not see how it happened but when it was time to clear the table, his team was still in the lead, where it has been 23 weeks and where it will try to resist three more.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism