|Valencia players form a 'pasillo' ahead of their match against the newly crowned Copa champions Real Madrid
Saturday afternoon was 'pasillo' time in Spanish football, a word which refers literally to the corridor that rival players form to welcome the newly crowned champions onto the pitch following a title triumph of the opposing team.
Fate, and the calendar, had it that the long-standing Spanish tradition was to be carried out in the same Mestalla Stadium in Valencia where Real Madrid had won the Copa del Rey in a highly electric extra-time 1-0 victory over Barcelona just a few days earlier.
This time though, the atmosphere outside the stadium was notably more relaxed than on that occasion on Wednesday night, even though an almost equally fierce rivalry divides the two teams. So it was inevitable that rumours of a snub of the 'pasillo' abounded, countered by other rumours that Valencia fans would enter the stadium five minutes after kick-off to avoid making the salute.
In the end something of a compromise was made; the 'pasillo' was formed with all respect by Valencia's players, to the backdrop of a fierce whistling concert from the stands.
Indeed, as the match progressed to an astonishing finale, Francisco Sanchez, one Valencia fan who has come to Mestalla for 25 years straight, quipped with a remarkably good sense of humour: "And then the people say we didn't do the 'pasillo'. Look, we’re giving them 'pasillo's' everywhere in our defence."
At that stage, Sanchez's team, third in the Primera Division and all set for a Champions League place along Spain's big two, were losing to the incredible score line of 6-1.
"In 25 years of coming here, I've never seen anything like this before," Sanchez added as he witnessed the highest scoring fixture of the season here, but unlike many other 'Che' fans, he stayed put until the end. The final scoreline was 6-3 to Real Madrid.
In doing so, he saw two further, entirely too late goals scored by his team, who outscored their rival by 3-2 goals in the second half. Jonas and Alba gave the remaining home fans something to celebrate late on.
But the irreversible damage had already been done in the first half.
On his return to the scene of his first title triumph with Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho opted for a formation which entirely rested his key players for the spectacular Champions League 'El Clasico' on Wednesday in Madrid.
In came the likes of Kaka, Benzema and Higuain, all of whom, after a brief opening phase dominated by the home side, completely enjoyed their opportunity on the sun-specked grass of Mestalla.
|Higuain on his way to a hat-trick in Valencia
On 21 minutes, Benzema calmly slotted home a long pass from Higuain, with the latter taking advantage of some clumsy defending by Mathieu to make it 2-0 on the half hour mark.
When Kaka scored the third from another Higuain pass, and the Argentine added his second goal of the afternoon just minutes before the break, the atmosphere in the stadium became markedly discontented. Whistles and white handkerchiefs could be heard and seen.
All the more so in the eighth minute of the second half as Kaka, delightfully reminiscent of the player who once was labelled the best in the world, skipped past a half-hearted challenge and put in a left-footed cross for Higuain to register his hat-trick.
Two old ladies in orange coloured 'Che' shirts had seen quite enough, shook their heads in unison, picked up their orange seat cushions and left the stadium muttering expertly-formulated football complaints. With them left many others.
Empty seats could be seen at regular intervals. Such a score-line against a heated, in some case hated, rival was not to the liking of the locals. Those who did stay on crackled nervously on the nuts which form part of the spectator experience here. Nut shells flew desperately groundward, along with a few insults, complaints, and a fair amount of resignation. If Real Madrid's second team could slot five past Valencia's first choice, then what kind of Primera Division would await next season, when the capital side is expected to add new star signings to their ranks?
But hope returned, magically, in wistfully small portions. There it was; first Roberto Soldado, the former Real Madrid youth team player, failing in a clear one-on-one with the impeccable Iker Casillas, then scoring his team's first goal a few minutes later. 5-1.
Hardly something to celebrate, but the locals did. Just a minute later, however, Kaka brilliantly finished a nutmeg and solo run into the heart of the area with a curling effort to score his side's sixth goal of the night, and celebrate thereby his own return to form.
That was when Francisco Sanchez made his ironic judgment on his side's defensive performance.
|Mourinho described Kaka's peformance as 'fantastic' [Alejandro Bolaños]
"Kaka was fantastic," was the later press conference judgment of Mourinho.
The Portuguese coach, who plans his press appearances with as much diligence as his side's performances on the pitch, was visibly content to put an end to what he called a successful "operation Valencia, with two very difficult games in 3 days."
His pre-prepared message on this day, always skilfully weaved into whatever questions might come his way, was that Real Madrid had won their domestic trophy for this season, and that the focus in Spain is now on next season.
"My teams are always better in the second season," he said, laying his claim to the Spanish league title in 2012 to the reverent glances of the gathered media.
A couple of hours later Barcelona rebounded from that painful Copa del Rey loss to notch a useful 2-0 home win over Osasuna, with Villa breaking his goal-scoring draught and Messi notching his 50th goal of another spectacular, record-breaking season. With five games remaining, the Catalans would need to lose three of those to allow Mourinho's side back into the race.
So all attention in Spain now turns to the Champions League tie between the two teams, although the victor of that enticing double-header won’t be the recipient of a 'pasillo' just yet.
Source: Al Jazeera