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The World Seen With  A Football Fan's Eye

Athletic Bilbao

01.12.2013 PRIMERA DIVISION 2013/2014
Athletic Bilbao - Barcelona 1:0

The San Mames Barria stadium was full that evening. No big surprise - Barca is still a magnet for football lovers, and besides, two non-Spanish teams met in a Spanish League match which gave the event some additional, spicy flavor. More fans probably wanted to see the game live, yet the fourth tribune is still under construction. 
Barcelona without their King of Football - although significant, this was the only core team member's absence. The guests took the lead in the game right after the first referee's whistle, forcing Athletic to some unproductive running annd chasing the ball. This created a suspicion of a deliberate Barca's tactic to fatigue the opponents in order to perform a deadly strike in the closing phase of the match. It did not materialize though, the hosts started slowly but surely coming to the fore more and more often, finally achieving some balance - ater all, Athletic occupied 5th place in the Primera Division league table.
No matter whether you like Barcelona or not - looking at them brings a lot of fun: the ball control, body balance, first contact pass - all of those pose an unmatched pattern for a coarse Polish football these days. Athletic counted on increadible will to fight supported by superb technical capabilities and efficient game organisation - each player knew exactly what to do on the pitch and how to secure and assist his partners. If you play against someone like Xavi and Iniesta, you need to be prepared for the unexpected any minute.
To our surprise, none of the stadium sectors was occupied by the so called "ultras", the team is cheered by literally all spectators and mature men in particular, who gesticulate vigorously and comment each and every action on the pitch.
The first half brought no goals but the appetite for the final success increased, probably because nothing like Barca's domination occurred. The white and reds came out for the second half even more determined and each dynamic action comforted their belief that "moving the mountains" is not just an euphemism. The tackles became harder, the referee showed several yellow cards, but no violent attempts were observed. The stubbornness finally brought fruits: in 70th minute Munain got an accurate pass from the side and scored. The audience went into the state of euphoria which could even turn into rampage if Mike Rico's header did not straight hit Pinto just a few minutes later. The Catalans coach response was a bit surprising: he took Xavi and Iniesta off the pitch. The substitute players (Sergi Roberto and Pedro) both appeared a small caliper against well performing hosts who on top of that made a brilliant move: after scoring the goal they did not retreat even by a half meter, looking for further opportunities to score again, thereby keeping Barca "at an arm's length".
Three minutes extra time brought a permanent whistling to exort pressure opon the referee to end the match. The first defeat of the Catalans this season became a fact whereas Athletic moved into no. 4 in the league table. The fans rushed into the city to celebrate the success in numerous pubs, restaurants and other similar venues. After all, 11 pm in Spain (pardon, the Basque Country) is still the "young hour".