|First Division - Day 1|
Deportivo de La Coruña 2 - Athletic Bilbao 0
Manuel Pablo, Naybet, Donato, Romero; Mauro Silva, Emerson; Víctor
(Scaloni 87'), Djalminha (Pandiani 14'), Fran; Diego Tristán
(Valerón 80'). 4-3-2-1.
The newly crowned league champions Deportivo opened their 2000/1 campaign with a good victory against a revitalized Athletic Bilbao. In the three months or so since the last match of the season, the activity of the technical staff has been quite frenetic, with several transfers in and out, and a hatful of players returning from loans having to be outplaced again. At times it appeared more like an employment agency than a football club, with over 40 players on their books when the regulations only allow a squad of 25. With a couple of exceptions that still have to settled, that period is now behind them and football is back on the agenda.
All in all there are nine new faces in the final squad, with three players coming in from Atlético Madrid and a triangular barter-deal with Real Madrid and Mallorca that saw Flavio, Eto'o and Diego Tristán all change places. Despite that, the eleven players who started the game were largely the line up that finished the league, with only three of the new boys, Molina in goal, Emerson in midfield and Tristán up front, being included. After his controversial season, which included his sending off for taking off his shirt against Arsenal in the UEFA cup, Djalminha was not expected to stay at the club. However in the end he not only stayed but started this match, although he only lasted 14 minutes before he had to go off with a recurring injury, being replaced not by Valerón as expected, but by Pandiani.
There were five players missing from the two squads on Olympic duty, including Capdevila, Bassir and Kouba from Deportivo and Aranzubia and Lacruz from Athletic. The Basques were the least active team on the transfer market in the summer, only signing one player, Merino, a Spaniard with dual nationality who had been playing at Nottingham Forest. They also recovered Orbaiz from Osasuna, a promising youngster who is currently playing for Spain's under 21 side. The big change however came on the manager's bench, with Txetxu Rojo moving from Zaragoza to his dream position at the team he has always supported, replacing Luis Fernández who went to Galatasaray. Rojo has managed to animate the team since his arrival, in particular restoring Spanish internationals Julen Guerrero and Urzaiz to the side, and many people are tipping them for honours this season. The manager had to watch the match from the stands however, as he is banned for the first four matches (reduced from nine) for allegedly assaulting the referee in the last match of the season.
Depor started well and Tristán managed a header at goal in the first minute. The entry of Pandiani changed their formation from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2, although they were less effective, the only real chance coming from Fran. They were in fact lucky to go in level at the break as Orbaiz rocked the crossbar with a shot from well outside of the area, although they could have taken the lead themselves had referee Andradas Asurmendi not ruled that a foul on Tristán by Alkorta was out of the area when cameras clearly showed it was inside.
Early in the second half the referee finally awarded a penalty to Deportivo in a play that was less clear than the previous one, Larrainzar being adjudged to have fouled Pandiani. Víctor transformed the spot kick. From that point on the home side controlled the game, with Tristán going close a couple of times before Emerson drifted past a number of players to lay the ball back from the left goalline in the last minute. Pandiani, a bustling, hard working centre forward, got in front of his marker at the near post and that was that.
Deportivo started where they left off, temporarily at least at the top of the table pending the Sunday matches. It's going to be a long hard season for them with the Champions League to play, but at least they started well. Rojo must be itching to get back to the dugout to direct his side from the driving seat. He has three more games to sit it out first.
Before the match Angel Villar, president of the Spanish football federation, presented team captain Fran with the league championship cup in front of 32,000 delirious fans. After the game, the players brought the cup back out to parade it in front of their followers. Will they be doing the same in nine months time?