Euro 2004 qualifier
Spain 3 - Northern Ireland 0
Michel Salgado, Puyol, Iván Helguera, Raúl Bravo; Baraja, Xavi;
Joaquín (Mendieta 75'), Guti (Capi 82'), Vicente; Raúl (Morientes
Group 6 table (after
games on 16 October):
From our international correspondents Borja Pantzov and Goran Arsic.
Hello everybody, we're back. Don't ask us where we've been since the World Cup; Goran was in charge of travel arrangements, and we seem to have circled the world three or four times at least, not bad on a budget of 3,500 pesetas but the Filipino smugglers' ship was a bit hairy to say the least.
Anyway, after missing the Greece game we are here in time to watch Iñaki Sáez's second official match in charge. Some concerns when he called up his first squad that the kindergarten were not going to let some of the players stay out after eight o'clock, but it turned out alright and we are already on line for Portugal 2004.
And so on to Albacete where Northern Ireland are waiting for us. We arrive the night before so that we can have a few glasses of Guinness with our Irish friends, but we end up at the airport trying to find out where their luggage has got to. Apparently the players were unable to train as their bags ended up in the Ukraine or somewhere. Somebody must have told the handling staff they were holidaymakers, and to give them the usual treatment.
The day of the match, and Goran has gone off to try the local speciality, Manchego cheese. He returns reeking of something rotten, but says he found a wonderful little place off the beaten track. Wherever it is, it should be condemned. I ask him to walk on the other side of the pavement as we make our way to the ground.
Sáez has revolutionized the squad, and brought in a lot of young players he knows from his days in charge of the junior teams. There are no less than seven Real Madrid players in the squad, and six of them are in the starting line up, including left back Raúl Bravo who plays for the B side. We are worried about the absence of Valerón, but Guti is on form and replaces him, with Raúl passed fit to play alongside him. We are not sure about the defence though, with a right back (Puyol) and a central midfielder (Iván Helguera) playing as central defenders due to the unavailability of Marchena and García Calvo. Still, it's only Northern Ireland.
Talking of the opposition, we really don't know any of their players other perhaps than Gillespie and of course their manager Sammy McIlroy. He obviously hasn't changed much, as he is banned from the dugout and has to give instructions by mobile phone to the bench.
Off we go, and it is not long before we take the lead. Baraja had missed two penalties the weekend before in the league, but he makes no mistake this time, getting above Murdock to head Xavi's cross down past Taylor. We almost go further ahead later in the half when Vicente shoots through a crowded goalmouth onto the post, but that will do for now.
There seems to be some trouble in the crowd, people are running away from an area in the stands. I look over to where this is happening, but there are no charging police or battling hooligans, only Goran who has gone to fetch a half time coffee. The red cross staff are running to the site with oxygen masks, and Goran is forcibly removed from the ground by a policeman in a type of space suit marked "dangerous cheese SWAT squad". Must happen a lot round here then.
The second half opens, and after another period of pressure we score again, Guti heading his first international goal from Vicente's cross. Raúl is looking off-colour though, he has been shooting with his right foot to protect his injured left, and Sáez brings on Morientes to replace him. No problems though, Northern Ireland have not really had a shot at Casillas all night, and with the game coming to an end Baraja finishes things off with a shot from the edge of the area after a good run by Morientes.
Six points from the first two matches, and we can almost start booking for Portugal already. I meet up with Goran and we get in the car ready for the drive to Logroño for Wednesday night's friendly with Paraguay. But what on earth is that stench? Goran tells me he has filled the boot with cheese as there was a special offer he could not afford to miss. I'm walking. It's only about 500 kilometres and with a bit of luck I should make it in time for the kick off!