|Manuel Labor reports.....|
|First Division - Day Thirty Eight|
Deportivo de La Coruña 2 - Espanyol 0
Manuel Pablo, Naybet, Donato, Romero; Mauro Silva, Jokanovic (Jaime 70');
Víctor, Djalminha (Pauleta 80'), Fran; Makaay (Turu Flores 60').
Team changes: Deportivo: Djalminha for Flavio Conceiçao / Espanyol: Mora, Soldevilla, Cristóbal, De Lucas for Cavallero, Navas, Nando, Martín Posse.
They have finally done it! After 94 years in existence, 29 in the first division, and finishing second on three occasions, Deportivo have won the Spanish first division for the first time in their history. They came oh so close six years ago when the Valencia keeper saved a last minute penalty from Djukic which would have given them the league title, but they were pipped at the post by Barcelona. A modest club with an annual budget only one third of the two big clubs, they have finally broken the hegemony of Barcelona and Real Madrid who have won the championship seven times each in the last fifteen years, with only Atlético Madrid winning one title in between. They are in fact only the ninth club to win the Spanish League in it's 69 years of existence, and curiously three of those teams, Atlético Madrid, Betis and Sevilla, are all relegated this year. Their manager Javier Irureta also made the history books, being the first Spanish born manager to win the title since Real Madrid's Molowny fourteen years ago. Once again everything came down to the last day, with three clubs, Depor, Barcelona and Zaragoza (looking for their first ever title) in with a chance. Deportivo were clear favourites however, with a three point advantage over the other two, and they only needed a point in this match to wrap things up. Their opponents Espanyol had nothing left to play for in the league (except perhaps under the table bonus payments rumoured to have been offered to their players by Barcelona and Zaragoza), and their manager Paco Flores rested three of his key players, keeper Cavallero, Nando and Martí Posse, with their first Spanish cup final in 43 years coming up in a week's time. Irureta put out his best available team, with Djalminha returning from suspension to replace the injured Flavio. A capacity crowd of 35,500 turned out in full costume, holding up a giant blue and white mosaic and spraying the ground with ticker-tape which left the pitch looking look Fifth Avenue on the fourth of July. Thousands more waiting at the Cuatro Caminos square in the centre of Coruña, less then a kilometre away from the Riazor stadium. As results went, the Gallician side could have lost and still been champions, as Barcelona could only draw and Zaragoza lost. However they didn't want to leave it up to others to their work for them, and just as news was coming in of an early goal for Zaragoza, Donato rose on the near post to head Víctor's corner past Mora. It was the icing on the cake for the 37 year old Spanish nationalised Brazilian, as the midfielder-turned-defender has been one of the driving forces of this championship winning side. The fans hearts were in their mouths a quarter of an hour later as Naybet brought down Tamudo in the penalty area, but Euro 2000 referee García Aranda waved away the penalty claims from the Espanyol players. Mora saved from Djalminha and Makaay before the Dutch striker got the better of him from close range after Manuel Pablo had left a defender in his wake before crossing from the right. Makaay's 22nd goal in the league (a total only bettered by Bebeto in Deportivo's history) was the cushion they needed, and a double cheer went up as Celta scored in the Camp Nou. Just before half time Depor were let off again as Naybet belatedly got a foot to a shot by De Lucas which had beaten Songo'o, and with luck also on their side, the teams went in at the break with Deportivo already looking like champions. Results continued to go their way, and although Barça clawed back to equalise against Celta, Valencia cancelled out Zaragoza's lead, and then went in front themselves. Víctor hit the crossbar with one shot and scraped the post with another, but Espanyol were not going to come back from this one, and Flores rested Velamazán and Tamudo later in the half. As the whistle blew the crowd invaded the pitch, looking for a bit of the goal netting or some other souvenir to remind them of the big night. Celebrations went on into the early hours, with the players dying their hair blue and white before joining fans at the Cuatro Caminos fireworks display. Deportivo qualify directly for the league stage of next season's Champions League, and Irureta will be asking club president Augusto César Lendoiro for some spending money to strengthen his squad further. Racing's Salva and Munitis are on the shopping list, with Pauleta likely to go to Zaragoza. First though, they can take a well earned holiday. They deserve it. Espanyol went home early as they still have another little match to play. They can be thankful that nobody was injured, and they hope that they will be able to celebrate their title a week from now, which would a fitting tribute in their centenary year.
Barcelona 2 - Celta 2
Frank De Boer, Reiziger; Gabri, Guardiola, Zenden (Puyol 46'); Xavi (Santamaria
46'), Litmanen (Sergi 80'); Dani, Kluivert, Cocu. 2-3-2-3.
Team changes: Barcelona: Xavi, Kluivert for Simao, Figo / Celta: Djorovic, Juanfran for Coira, Karpin.
Barcelona's season fizzled out at the Nou Camp stadium in front of an apathetic and at times aggressive audience. Any other side (except possibly Real Madrid) would have been more than happy with their performance this year, second in the league and semi-finalists in the Champions League and Spanish cup. But they didn't win any titles, and being runners up to Barcelona supporters is rather like coming second in a nuclear war. As reported last week, their relatively poor season has taken it's toll, and club president Josep Lluis Nuñez has finally decided to cash in his chips, calling early elections for a few weeks time and standing down to make way for new blood. His resignation means that manager Louis Van Gaal will not be staying on to complete his contract, (which has another year to run), and a replacement manager will be chosen once the new president has been elected. That could be a problem, as the elections will probably not now take place until late July, less than a month before Barça start their season. The draw against Celta leaves Barcelona in second place in the league, and depending upon UEFA's interpretation of the rules, they may have to play a qualifying round of the Champions League in mid August. Several candidates are currently being touted around for president, and more than one is rumoured to be putting together a package which will bring Johann Cruyff back as managing director. SOCCER-SPAIN will keep you informed as and when things happen. In the meantime, youth team manager Lorenzo Serra Ferrer, who has had spells at Mallorca and Betis amongst others, will take over as caretaker. Right now though Van Gaal had to concentrate on their last match in the league, still with an outside chance of winning the championship but with a real risk too that they could end up out of the Champions League places for next season. With Figo injured and Rivaldo probably not likely to play in the Blaugrana colours again, the Dutch manager put together a makeshift side, with Dani and Cocu on the wings and young C team winger Sergio Santamaría drafted in to fill up the places on the bench after a good performance in the Cataluña cup final midweek (a match in which Amunike made his reappearance). Their rivals Celta were looking to secure seventh place, which could give them a back door into the UEFA cup via the Intertoto competition. Their team were decimated by injuries and suspensions, with Karpin banned and Mostovoi, Gustavo Löpez, Revivo and McCarthy injured, and with Juanfran and Djorovic returning from suspension, Víctor Fernández opted to play with five defenders in what is probably his last match in charge. With Nuñez watching the match on TV in a private office, first vice-president Nicolas Casaus presided over the directors' box. Posters in the crowd announced 'Van Gaal go home', and 'mercenaries, you don't feel the true colours of the team'. There were others however in favour of Nuñez, and some pro and anti supporters clashed verbally before the game. Despite a couple of early efforts by Kluivert, Barcelona were off form, and after Tomás hit the post with a strange deflection off Litmanen after his free kick, the midfielder went one better with a solo goal which left Hesp clutching at air. Five minutes later Turdo was allowed to pick up the ball on the right of the penalty area, and after turning back unchallenged he unleashed a strong shot from outside of the area which lodged in the top corner of the net. The white hankies were out as ex Barcelona midfielder Celades went close, and the home team were whistled and booed off the pitch at half time. Van Gaal decided to make changes, and he brought on Puyol and Santamaría at half time, the young winger being the ninth youngster that he has used this season. Within a minute they had one back after Giovanella couldn't stop himself putting out a hand to stop Dani's little chip over his head. Kluivert scored from the spot, and five minutes later he got another after a good run from Dani down the left. Guardiola sent a free kick close and Dani was unlucky to be ruled offside by referee Bueno Grimal as he put the ball in the net later on. It wouldn't have made much difference to Barcelona, as Deportivo by that time were out of sight, although it could have damaged Celta's chances. Víctor made his three changes to rest tired legs, with youngster Meca coming on up front for his second appearance as substitute. Mallorca's surprise defeat at home to Atlético means that they stay in seventh and achieve their secondary goal of entering the Intertoto cup at the third round in mid-July. Those not playing in the Euro 2000 championship can now get some rest, as next season will start early for both. There are many questions to answer before then though, not least of which is who will be in the manager's seat at both clubs. There is indeed no rest for the wicked.