This is the continuation of a previous piece about Real Betis. You can read it here.
Somewhere, at the end of the table, there were going to be tears.
Girona were losing to Murcia 0-1 at home, and Las Palmas were leading 1-0 against Gimnàstic de Tarragona courtesy of a Salomón Rondón goal. Girona, who had been in 13th place before the final day, were now in 19th and in deep trouble, and Las Palmas were about to silently escape relegation.
1200 miles away, Girona were down and Murcia were safe. And then the worst possible thing happened.
In the last minute Murcia’s Miguel Albiol (yes, Raúl’s brother) conceded a penalty.
Up stepped Kiko Ratón for the last kick of the game. If he scored, Girona were safe, and Murcia were down. Otherwise, Girona were down.
A striker who had made his professional debut with Tenerife at the age of 26, who had had his best season ever with Girona at the age of 34, stepped up to take the final kick of the season. In a way, his career hinged on this kick. He couldn’t spent more time in the Segunda B - he had spent too long in that league, and he knew he was too good for it. A competitive Segunda meant that even 51 points, Girona’s total, wasn’t good enough for survival. Girona needed this goal. He needed this goal.
31-year-old Alberto Cifuentes stood between him and the goal. The goal of survival.
It was a beautiful kick - bottom right corner, perfectly placed, a striker’s finish. But it was an even better save, the goalkeeper had guessed the right way and dived low to his left.
When you’re a goalkeeper, you know when the angle at which a save is made is right or not. You know if the save will be successful or not.
Alberto knew. And it wasn’t good news.
The ball rolled under his body slowly, but by the time Alberto looked behind him the ball had reached the goal.
The Estadi Montilivi erupted into a dizzying array of red and white, as black shirts fell to the floor. Alberto, wearing a dark blue kit, stared into empty space in disbelief. He was staring at a future that looked bleak.
He only returned to the Segunda after six years.
There was nothing left to play for. Elche were safe and Real Sociedad were champions, and were given a guard of honor at the Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero.
He clapped, but as soon as the last Sociedad player had gone through the ritual he was ready to pounce.
In the 38th minute, a cross came in from the left. He took it down on his chest, swerved a full 180 degrees and placed the ball cleanly in the bottom right hand corner of the goal. In the 47th minute, on the counter attack, he received a pass and hit it first time, this time in the bottom left hand corner. In the 61st minute, he shot with his left foot and then, with his right, powered the parried shot into the empty net. And in the 88th minute, he took down another cross on his chest and placed the ball in the bottom right hand corner.
Four goals. Boring ones, but the ones a poacher makes. Jorge Molina, 28, was playing only his second professional season and had won the Pichichi Trophy, having scoring 26 goals.
In the grand scheme of things, the match didn’t mean much.
But for Jorge Molina, it meant a €1.6 million move to Real Betis, a La Liga debut in 2011 at the age of 29, playing in Europe in 2013, and a place in Betis folklore.
There was everything to play for. Albacete absolutely needed a win and they were up away against newly promoted Cartagena, a team that was on the verge of challenging for a second promotion in two years but were since brought back to earth and had nothing to play for.
At the Estadio Cartagonova, something happened that is somehow all too familiar and accepted in Spanish football.
It wasn’t even a contest.
They weren’t even trying. They got tackled too easily, their marking was too lax, they held onto the ball for too long, they didn’t even look like they cared. Even when they had conceded four.
On a sunny day at Cartagena, Fernando Sales, Antonio Hidalgo, Stuani and Antonio López took full advantage of a Cartagena team that looked nothing like the team that was challenging for a historic promotion to La Liga.
For the first goal the keeper parried the ball into the net. For the second he overcommitted to such a degree that a shot in any direction would have gone in. For the third goal the goalkeeper literally took the ball into the net, for the fourth they gave away the ball from a corner, then one of them just ran away from the player he was marking and let him score, and the keeper let himself get chipped.
4-0. And that was the half-time score.
Very conveniently, there was very little play afterwards, as both teams accepted that the result suited everyone. And so the full time score read the same.
32-year-old Juan Carlos Castilla was Cartagena’s keeper - it was only his second ever professional match.
It was also his last.
This is reproduced from an article about the final day of the 2009-10 Segunda season. You can read it here.