SOCCER

The night Depor ruined Real’s birthday party

Ten years on, players recall the King’s Cup win that spoilt Madrid’s centenary

Deportivo de la Coruña’s players pose on the Bernabéu grass with the trophy.
Deportivo de la Coruña’s players pose on the Bernabéu grass with the trophy.ULY MARTÍN

Not a match in the Riazor stadium goes by in which you’re not reminded of that triumph; in which fans don’t sing the song that recounts what happened that night, 10 years ago this week, when Deportivo de La Coruña won its second King’s Cup, dined at a popular asador on the menu Real Madrid had picked out and club president César Augusto Lendoiro danced boleros till dawn: “Go on Depor! / Go on De! / To the rhythm of the drum, / the centenary cup / at Madrid we won.”

It was March 6, 2002, a Wednesday. From the beginning of the season it had been known the Cup final would be played at the Bernabéu because Real had requested it to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the club’s founding. It was the era of the galácticos, but Real hadn’t reached a King’s Cup final in eight years and so turned doing so into a priority. And the final responded to the anticipated glitz by bringing the two most recent Liga champions face to face.

“Nevertheless, the idea that we would just be bystanders was fostered from Madrid,” remembers captain Fran, the first to lift the cup that night.

“They didn’t respect us before, during or after,” recalls Juan Carlos Valerón. “It was a great team, but they caught us at an optimal moment in terms of our game, confidence and soccer.”

They didn’t respect us before, during or after,” recalls Juan Carlos Valerón

A week before Deportivo had given a lesson to Juventus at the Riazor, beating it 2-0 in a Champions League match in which it could have scored many more. A week later it also sealed a 0-2 win away at Arsenal, perhaps the most comprehensive performance by that team coached by Javier Irureta.

“It was a sweet moment — incredible, atypical,” says midfielder Sergio. “In the locker room we knew we weren’t too far away from Real.”

“We had a great team that always went out to get the ball and dominate, but there was also a lot of David and Goliath,” says Mauro Silva. The sturdy Brazilian was the focal point from the beginning to the end. As soon as the game started, he was involved in an moment that announced the way things would go. Lionel Scaloni went in hard on Raúl who then stumbled into Mauro. They clashed and the Brazilian got involved in the only brawl of his near 20-year professional career. In the middle of the skirmish emerged José Molina, who had left the Depor goal to cover 40 meters and confront Raúl.

“That a person like José, so respectful and proper, reacted in this way made everyone realize we were serious,” says Mauro.

I will never forget Raúl congratulating us one by one. He is a real example,”

Sergio scored after six minutes to put Deportivo in front and Tristán got the second goal seven minutes before half time. “They turned their faces and you could clearly see that all the pressure was on Real,” says Valerón.

Two hours before the start, around the stadium everything was white and blue. Substitute Djalminha had looked out on to the pitch before his teammates went out to warm up and came into the dressing room with eyes like saucers: “Half of A Coruña is out there!” he cried. After Tristán’s strike, all those people started singing a smug Happy Birthday.

Raúl closed the gap 12 minutes after the break, but Irureta responded with a change that brought many observers’ hands to their heads because of the resignation it transmitted: defensive Aldo Duscher for the elfin Valerón. But the Galician team closed out the game for a 1-2 win.

“Madrid were destroyed. That’s why I will never forget the image of Raúl congratulating us one by one. He is a real example,” says Sergio. In the director’s box Lendoiro remembers how Real president Florentino Pérez, with whom he had a good relationship, took several minutes to congratulate him. “All that’s left is for us is to say sorry to our fans,” was all he managed to say.

“We won and… that’s it,” summed up then Galician regional premier Manuel Fraga.

The party was blue and white and it began on the pitch. There Scaloni gave everything before and after the final whistle: “I threw my shorts into the stand and hung from the crossbar with our fans in front of me.” In the background, the centenary fireworks. The Argentinean, who now plays for Lazio, sums up his feelings: “It’s the trophy I most enjoyed winning... I would pay anything to put that shirt on again and start the match once more.”

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