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Off-the-radar: Novelda and Barcelona – the struggle of a goalkeeper

Sarthak Kumar tells us more about a Copa del Rey clash in 2002 which became forever etched in history.

David Rogers/Getty Images

He could only lose. If Barça won no one would mention the goalkeeper. If it went wrong, he would get the blame.

Nestling within the southern parts of Valencia lies the city of Novelda. A small population of twenty-seven thousand is garnished by a thriving marble industry. Apartment blocks from the fifties and warehouses give way to a casino and an old town hall.

And there's the Estadio La Magdalena, of course. A stadium that hosts Novelda CF, a team that has not, and will probably never, play in the professional leagues. But that didn't matter. It was the 11th of September, 2002, and Barcelona were coming to town.

If he failed here, it would all be over.

The Novelda players came out for the warm up but they weren't really concentrating - after all they were playing against this eleven: Enke; Reiziger, Frank de Boer, Fernando Navarro; Rochemback, Gabri, Xavi, Gerard, Motta; Riquelme; Geovanni. You could feel the talent - the class - oozing from the Barcelona team.

‘Tis the bane of a substitute keeper - out of rhythm, he suddenly had to prove himself. He came from a foreign country and now he had to play on a rugged pitch in an unpracticed team full of substitutes.

Bright daylight shone on the stadium even at 8 in the evening.

Unlike his teammates, he is paralyzed with fear. His mouth is open, his eyes are wide.

Barcelona dominated possession as always, and were always a pass ahead of their Segunda B opponents. Riquelme played a pass in the attacking third into empty space and Geovanni made no mistake. 1-0. Five thousand fans applauded - it was a quality goal by quality players.

The first half went by, but the second half was no different. For nearly an hour, Barcelona dominated possession, and were a step above their opponents. On the left wing, a free-kick was awarded. Miguel Ángel Mullor swung the ball into the box. At the far post, an opponent was unmarked.

He wanted to draw his defenders' attention to the lone man. But he couldn't. Silent, paralysed, he stayed on the goal-line...

26-year-old Toni Madrigal was in his best years as an established Segunda B player. A 187 cm tall striker with a deadly right foot, and an uncanny ability to evade his marker. This time, the marker was Dutch international Michael Reiziger, and the right foot he loved met the ball perfectly and one touch is all it took to draw the scores level.

He stood frozen in front of his goal.

For fifty-eight minutes Madrigal had been grazing away at Barcelona's defenders, and this was his reward.

When the ball was far away from him, he thought about the equaliser. It had been Reiziger's mistake, but why hadn't he come out? He should have gathered the cross, right?

Another free-kick. This time, the ball was fumbled but Rochemback seemed to have the ball under control. Mullor immediately stole the ball, and lobbed it into the box. Madrigal had sensed correctly that his teammate would get the ball, and had already started running towards Barça's goal. He had a split second's advantage, and de Boer - who was behind him - wasn't quick.

He was stranded. He knew Madrigal would get to the ball before he did. The ball was buried in the net from twelve yards out. 2-1.

Three minutes later, when Riquelme equalised with a penalty, the feeling among the fans was mutual. The fight was brave, but Barcelona needed just a small window of opportunity and they would be through.

He wanted to make things better, but he was gripped by the fear that whatever he did would make things worse.

On the left side of midfield, Novelda's captain - Cudi - had the ball. He loved crossing to the back post - and Madrigal knew that perfectly well. He sprinted diagonally towards it, trying to go for the header. De Boer went with Madrigal. The ball flew towards the six-yard line. And suddenly de Boer stopped.

He was frightened. He didn't even take a step forward. And De Boer stopped too, perhaps scared of making a mistake himself.

Madrigal suddenly felt calm. He took his time. He placed his header so that it would bounce and spin unpredictably. It was a certain goal. Novelda's bench thundered because the fans were thumping the roof.

De Boer stood in the penalty box and railed at him. A professional was humiliating a teammate on the pitch.

He stood there, his face pale, eyes lowered, and didn't say a word.

There were still twelve minutes there but the game was already over. On the pitch, the fans celebrated their win and their hero: Toni Madrigal, a player who earned 2,000 euros a month, was the first player to score a hat-trick against Barcelona in the 21st century.

He pulled himself away, went to sit on the bus, waited for it to drive off, for the darkness to swallow him up.

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