|First Division - Day 36|
Real Madrid 5 - Alavés 0
César; Michel Salgado, Hierro (Iván Campo 76'), Karanka, Roberto
Carlos; Figo, Iván Helguera, Makelele, Savio (Munitis 79'); Guti
(McManaman 63'), Raúl. 4-4-2.
Team changes: Madrid: Hierro, Iván Helguera, Raúl for Iván Campo, Celades, McManaman / Alavés: Pablo, Tomic, Jordi Cruyff for Contra, Magno, Vucko.
¡Campeones, campeones, oé, oé, oé! This time the barriers at the Cibeles fountain in Madrid did not have to be dismantled as Real won their 28th Spanish league championship in style. Needing only a victory against Alavés to wrap up the title, Madrid gave the UEFA cup sub-champions no chance, racing into a two goal lead before the half hour mark and finishing off with three more in the second half. With Hierro and Helguera back after suspension and Raúl recovered from his virus infection Del Bosque put out his first choice line up, with the on-form Savio keeping a place in the side to the detriment of McManaman. Alavés came to Madrid needing points to keep open their options of UEFA cup football next season, and Mané also put out a strong side, missing only the suspended Contra. Javi Moreno was playing his first match since announcing that he will be leaving to join Milan next season.
There was a festival atmosphere at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, with a capacity 74,000 crowd waving flags and already celebrating what they assumed was going to be an inevitable victory. Their team started a little shakily though, with Karanka having to clear from Moreno and Dan Eggen wasting a good chance before Figo stamped his authority on the game with a run through from his own half reminiscent of Maradona's other goal against England (not the hand of god one). Although Herrera managed to get a hand to his shot to turn into past the post, Madrid were out of their trance, and only a few minutes later Figo found Guti for him to slip the ball through to Raúl for him to lift it over the keeper to open the scoring. Eggen injured himself badly trying to stop the ball going in, tearing his posterior cruciate ligament against the post, and with Alavés temporarily down to ten men Guti took advantage to head a second from Raúl's cross only two minutes later, referee Rodríguez Santiago waving away the visitors' claims for offside.
Raúl missed a good chance to extend the lead before the break and Roberto Carlos hit the outside of the post from an impossible angle with Herrera expecting a cross. However Alavés could also have pulled one back when Desio got the ball in the net only seconds after the half time whistle. The second half though belonged to Luis Figo, the visitors' defence unable to find any way to stop him as he waltzed down the right wing. Within five minutes he had found Hierro's head with a corner, the veteran captain's 100th goal in Spanish first division football, which is far and away a record for a defensive player. Then he walked through to the by-line to swing over another cross for Helguera to head home, and repeated the act later on for Raúl to get in front of the keeper and head into the roof of the net. It was an important goal for the young striker, taking him above Javi Moreno to the top of the league's Pichichi chart, and he is in line for a classic double, having already finished top scorer in the Champions League. Moreno himself was replaced by Mané on the hour mark, the striker apparently more interested in selfishly increasing his goal tally than helping his team get back in the game. Del Bosque brought on McManaman and Munitis, the crowd applauding them warmly as they came on, and Iván Campo replaced a limping Hierro, who may now be doubtful for Spain's upcoming double header with Bosnia and Israel.
When the final whistle went the crowd exploded, and celebrations went on well into the night, with a first stop the traditional visit to the Cibeles statue in the centre of Madrid. There were several hangovers the next day when the club held their general shareholders meeting, and new president Florentino Pérez rounded off a perfect year as his plans to sell off the training ground to the Madrid local council were approved, clearing off their huge debt in one go. Spare a thought though for Alavés. The Vitoria side drop out of contention for the last UEFA spot, now six points behind Celta, and the Spanish federation have even asked UEFA to give them an honorary place in the competition for next season after their epic final. That is unlikely to happen, and with Moreno and Contra already signed by Milan and others on the shopping list of big clubs, the fairy story may be over. But then Mané has agreed to stay, so maybe.....Alavés II, the minnows strike back?