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Off-the-radar: Figueres and Barcelona – David against Goliath

Round of 64 of the Copa del Rey, Barcelona being held at bay. Sarthak Kumar narrates the proceedings.

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The Republicans vs the Nationalists. The government vs the rebels. Left-wing vs right-wing. Democracy vs monarchy. Liberal vs conservative.

It was the Spanish Civil War, and Figueres had to decide.

The Catalans, the Basques, the Asturians, even the Galicians were mostly with the Republican government to fight the rebels led by Franco, but Figueres had to decide.

140 km from Barcelona, in the north-eastern reaches of Catalonia, as close to France as possible, a conservative town had to choose whether to side with - or against - its overwhelmingly liberal province.

Figueres had to decide.

The floodlights were on, the Estadi Municipal de Vilatenim was packed. Nine thousand fans had come, armed in white and blue balloons, to watch their third division team play against Barcelona.

Every Barcelona player had a football - blue with streaks of red - which they would then proceed to kick to a grateful crowd. Grateful for the footballs but also for the football that was going to be played.

UE Figueres are Catalan - they even use the Catalan Unió instead of the more popular Spanish Unión in their name. But it didn’t matter when Barcelona were around.

This wasn’t just Goliath they were playing against - these were players who had cost billions. Saviola (5 billion pesetas), Andersson (1.5 billion), Geovanni (3.5 billion) and Rochemback (2.2 billion) all started the game that night. Throw in the likes of Pepe Reina, Xavi, Puyol, Fernando Navarro, and Marc Overmars, and what do you get?

An amazing team. No, not Barcelona - UE Figueres were all over them.

Fernando Navarro and Puyol were expected to attack on the wings but ended up overrun. Pepe Reina was expected to stand in goal but ended up making fingertip saves. Xavi was expected to dictate the tempo but ended up losing it altogether.

Barcelona were expected to score goals, but ended up not having a single shot on target in the first half, and just another from open play in the second. And Figueres had still somehow not scored, having bombed Barcelona’s goal from every angle imaginable.

Barcelona were not scoring, and a man from Barcelona, donning the no. 6 shirt, wasn’t allowing that. No, not Xavi - Arnau Sala Descals,  captain of UE Figueres.

Bombs. Everywhere. The rebels were spreading destruction throughout the city. Figueres was facing the consequences of siding with the Republican government.

In the first minute of extra time, from the center of the pitch, a diagonal ball was played to the right-wing. Kali Garrido, the number 10, the 29-year-old striker with more goals than anyone else in the squad, and with the pedigree of having played in the second division - professional football - with Eibar, was waiting there, marked by Andersson, but couldn’t get his foot on the ball.

Seconds later, Garrido gets the ball at his feet from Arnau. Pepe Reina comes out. Andersson is somehow running towards Kali. Puyol is too far away. And just before anyone can get to the ball, Garrido takes his right foot and chips the ball over everyone. Nobody had a chance.

On the 7th of November, 2011. Barcelona didn’t have a chance.

Thousands fled the country, seeking refuge across the border in France. Amongst them was Manuel Azana, the President of the Republic.

Figueres was the last place the Republicans would ever meet.

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