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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Feb 26, 2007

Derbi day data

It's an odd affair as derbis (derbies) go, Atlético v Real Madrid. Even though - as in all major cities - the socio-cultural divisions between the two principal football teams are well defined, the encounter is nevertheless unique in being overshadowed by another much stronger rivalry, in this case the one that has existed since time immemorial between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Atlético v Barcelona has itself been a resonant fixture over the years, with the games in the 1990's picking up a reputation for being vibrant, free-scoring affairs. But the Madrid derbi has never been a game to attract massive international media attention, maybe because its nature has never been truly understood from the outside.

It may be the case that intra-city hostilities are only really understood by the citizens who live there and who contribute to the culture, but the truth is that Madrid v Barça is rarely disappointing. On the other hand, Atlético v Real has very often been a more tepid affair than it should be, given the history between the two clubs' communities, and in recent years Atlético have often been accused of handing the three points to their illustrious neighbours, almost as if they preferred to remain the underdogs, the unwanted bad boys flitting around in the darkness on the edge of town.

For the last four seasons, the game in the Calderón has finished 0-4, 1-2, 0-3, 0-3. In fact in the last twenty years, Atlético have only won the derbi twice on their home ground, and even during their famous double season in 1996, they lost at home to Real.

Saturday's game was a thoroughly enjoyable affair however, with Atlético seemingly much more up for the scrap than in recent years. Maybe they sensed blood, since despite their own inconsistent season so far, a win would have seen them leap-frog their neighbours on goal-difference, putting them into a Champions League position and pushing Real out of the frame (assuming Valencia secured a result at Nastic).

The Madrid Police Dept certainly saw it that way, with the game officially declared 'High Risk', a label that resulted in over 1,000 police and security personnel - quite a number when you consider that only 200 Real Madrid fans actually turned up for the game. As in the Barcelona v Espanyol games, the 'away' fans prefer to watch from the safety of their sofas. Strange inter-neighbourhood rivalries frame these games, added to the more complex fact that several of the 'ultras' from both clubs are known to fraternise during the week, wedded to the sort of ideological solidarity that sees footballing rivalry pushed to the bottom of the agenda.

In short, they prefer not to embarrass each other on derbi days, and of course, the accusations of an undercover journalist of (unofficial) police membership of the ultra world all mean that running battles in the streets of Madrid on these occasions are few and far between. Atlético fans prefer to bolster their reputations by stoning visiting team buses, hurling all sorts of abuse down from the terraces at visiting players, and smashing up visiting journalists' cars - as they did this weekend, damaging 36 of them, in actual fact. It's the Calderón calling-card, and it ensures, at the very least, that the violence is channelled into vandalising objects as opposed to people. How thoughtful of them.

After eleven minutes, Torres scored his first ever goal against Real Madrid, in what was his ninth derbi. Not a great record, and since his much-hyped appearance on the scene in 2000-2001 (in the Second Division) he has rarely played well against them. This time he used his major virtue - his muscle power - to make Cannavaro look particularly uncomfortable, and in the first half Atlético ran Real ragged.

The second half was more even, with the prodigal son Cassano coming on for Reyes and proving that whatever you say to Capello, he'll still play you if he's desperate enough. Cassano then supplied the pass from which Higuain opened his account for Real Madrid, and the game teetered on an entertaining knife-edge, with only Casillas coming between the home side and victory, particularly after Cannavaro had been sent off for fouling Torres once too many.

So Atlético blew their chance of moving up into the top four. That's probably how they'll end up, not quite there, kept out on the margins. There is a tradition at the club that makes a play on this, that builds up a spirit at the club as a bunch of ne'er-do-wells, disliked by everybody because they don't conform, reaping solidarity in the face of adversity. It's a slightly false pose, of course.

Atlético are no losers, and like Manchester City's early dominance over Manchester United, were probably the better side until economics (and Di Stéfano in Madrid's case) came along to change matters for ever. Atlético lie fifth in the all-time ranking of Spanish clubs, a table whose criteria of success date from clubs' records since the dawning of the professional league in 1928/29.

They were fourth in the all-time table until being pipped recently by Valencia, but in terms of trophies they're well ahead of them. They have won nine league titles, nine Kings' Cups and one Cup Winners' Cup (1962). They also made it to the European Cup Final in 1974, and were beaten in Brussels by Bayern Munich after holding them to a 1-1 draw in the original tie. They won two consecutive league titles in 1950 and 1951 under the stewardship of the famous Helenio Herrera, and three years before they beat Real Madrid 5-0 in the old Metropolitano, their most famous derbi victory to date in the year in which Real Madrid were almost relegated.

Another interesting fact is that the two clubs have met on three occasions in the King's Cup final, and in all three Atlético have won, the last time as recently as 1992. The most internationally significant meeting between them was however in 1959, when both sides reached the semi-finals of the European Cup and were drawn together - the mother of all derbis. Atlético came close to breaking that famous run of European Cup wins by arguably the greatest side of all time, taking Real to a third game in Zaragoza where they finally succumbed 2-1. They could have changed the course of Spanish football history that night, but it wasn't to be.

It was this period, in fact, that forged the present identity of Atlético, since their excellent side of the early 'sixties was totally overshadowed by Real's international exploits. Atlético seemed to develop a chip on their shoulder at being shunned by Real, as if the big boys from the posher neighbourhood didn't want to get too deeply involved - partly out of their hatred for Barça and partly out of indifference towards Atlético. By ignoring them, Real implied there was no competition.

Atlético seemed to fall for this, and took on a rougher edge to compensate for the snub. That's what you still see today, and it was very apparent in the rapturous reaction to Torres' goal, and the abuse heaped onto Guti's blonde locks as he walked off the pitch after being substituted.

Guti was offered a contract by Atlético in the summer, when he was still in dispute with Real. He turned the offer down, implying in a press conference that the Calderón wasn't really big enough for a guy like him.

Elsewhere, Barcelona returned to winning ways after their midweek trauma at the hands of Liverpool, with Eto'o back in the ranks. He scored, and Ronaldinho took off his shirt at the end to show everyone that he wasn't as fat as was being implied in the press. All chums together now, it would seem.

And finally, Osasuna played their 1,000th game in the top flight in a carnival atmosphere, but lost 0-2 at home to Espanyol. Rather like Atlético Madrid, who celebrated their centenary in 2003 with a giant paella, cooked outside the stadium to feed 5,000 fans who had walked from the Neptune Fountain to the stadium carrying the world's largest scarf, knitted lovingly by a group of fans for weeks before the game. Then they went and lost their centenary game, to Osasuna, curiously enough. A typical day out in Atlético's accidental history, but at least they didn't lose it to Real Madrid.


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