This is the story of how Valencia's historic 4-1 battle against Real Madrid on Sunday owes something to a grandmother, grandfather, Dani Parejo, Peter Lim, Djene Dakonam from Getafe, an angel , a demon and, of course, one of Los Che's most famous ball boys.
Here is the saga packed with Keystone Kops, eye of the hurricane, which shows how Carlos Soler came to miss, score and then score twice more, all 11 meters (36 feet) from the penalty spot, to put Zinedine Zidane back . his worst loss as a Madrid manager. It's such a good story that it prompted the local Valencia football newspaper, Superdeporte , to headline their Monday morning front page: “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha! "
The whole interwoven process begins a week ago, when Valencia and Getafe furiously fueled their long-standing feud with a foul festival of a 2-2 draw at Mestalla.
Stay with me, however. As fun as this vendetta match has been, it's hugely important why Soler has become Valencia's favorite son for his exploits against the Spanish champions.
Imagine the scene a week ago. Playing with 10 men since the 56th minute, in a game that produced eight yellow cards and two reds, Valencia led their hated enemies Getafe until the 87th minute. Getafe's Cucho Hernandez equalizes, then, entering the 95th minute with just 60 seconds of extra time, Getafe substitute Angel brings the ball to his knees after it bounces off Jaume Domenech's post. Cue the Valencian desolation.
Not only is their agonizing month-long winless run set to continue, but they've also had a ton of salt rubbed into that injury because it's the bruised and bristling side of Getafe that waited until the last seconds to turn defeat into ”victory. "
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From the next kick-off, just 45 seconds from time, Daniel Wass throws a Hail Mary ball into the Getafe penalty area. At that point, believe it or not, calamities are about to begin for Real Madrid as well as for Pepe Bordalas's side from the southern outskirts of the Spanish capital.
Valencia's Uruguayan striker Maxi Gomez is attacked by Getafe right-back Damien 'Rules are for Suckers' Suarez. The chase for the ball is so frantic that Getafe captain Djene stumbles over his teammate's legs and crashes into Gomez to knock him down. Penalty. SORRY! And immediately from the kick-off!
Complete and utter chaos erupts. Meanwhile, quietly, Soler will pick up the ball. He knows that when the storm subsides, he is tasked with being the designated survivor.
The penalty is given at 95:27 minutes, but as Djene tramples the penalty area, refusing to accept the decision of referee Jorge Figueroa, hopping up and down as he screamed through the night and declaimed "l 'injustice', time flies, and the horrible and unfair pressure on Soler mounts. Eventually, Djene gives in to something like sharing power with the referee, Suarez is sent off for persistent attempts to show the referee the error of his ways, and Jaime Mata is penalized for refusing to let the penalty be. executed. To make matters worse, Djene took Soler's ball in the middle of the scrum and threw it.
At the time the 23-year-old Valencia-born – who was a Champions League ball boy for his club when they played for Chelsea in 2011; then eight years later, he marked the opening of the Blues' next visit to Mestalla – was able to take the penalty against Getafe, more than four minutes had passed.
Soler reflected on the madness to a group of journalists on Friday, two days before facing Madrid, admitting that the minutes had been a purgatory for him. Just before facing Getafe, one of Valencia's assistant coaches, Chema Sanz, told Soler: “Hey kid, we're going to get a penalty against this lot, and you'll take it. And you will score. ! "
“I had taken occasional penalties in shootouts throughout my career, but never in La Liga because Dani Parejo has always been our kick taker.
“When the referee blew for the penalty against Getafe, everyone started fighting about it, and I felt like I had the ball in my hands for six or seven minutes. Except when Djene snatched it from me and threw it around the corner. And I started talking about things in my mind like I was talking to a friend.
“But, believe me, I had a demon on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The demon whispered to me: 'F – that… what if you miss and there is no time left to equalize and us' I will lose! But I turned to the little angel, and she said, "Look, if you practice penalties every Friday and Saturday after practice and score the vast majority of them, then why wouldn't you keep this one- here too? "
“It was the internal debate that raged as everyone argued in front of me. "
When the time comes, Soler trots, in a style similar to the famous technique of Valencian legend Gaizka Mendieta – imagine those prancing Lipizzaner stallions from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna – and buries the 2-2 equalizer.
Pressure? What pressure.
Cut to a week later: same field, opposite goal mouth, similar stress, except that it marks the equalizer against Madrid, champion of Spain. From the moment Madrid 'pinched' Predrag Mijatovic from Mestalla in the mid-1990s, there's no doubt that this is the game, year after year, that V alencianistas desperately want to win – not Levante, not Barcelona, not Atleti, but Real Madrid. No question.
The penalty is clear this time: the handball of Lucas Vazquez on the center of Jose Gaya. But Soler's technique is not very precise. Thibaut Courtois dives fully to his right and parries the shot. Soler unleashes the rebound from the far post, unable to react in time to guide him home, but young Yunus Musah waits to hit him home on his left foot.
Joy, relief, reprieve. Match tied 1-1, as Soler suffers from the pain and embarrassment of missing only the second penalty he has ever conceded in La Liga. Flooding in his mind were memories of his maternal grandparents, Rafa and Amalia, who picked him up with his brother from primary school, drove them to their small village 5 km north of Valencia and ordered the two children to do their homework. Then one of the Rafa or Amelia would go through the goal (lines painted on the garden wall) so that Carlos, especially five, could practice his shot.
Ale Moreno blames Raphael Varane after Real Madrid's 4-1 loss to Valencia.
Rafa was the one who promised six-year-old Soler, as shy as he was, that Grandpa would get him a Gameboy if he agreed to join the youth section of the local Bonrepos football club. There Carlos thrived until the age of seven, scoring a hat-trick against Valencia's age-equivalent group in Bonrepos's biggest win in history. It was the same year that Rafa Benitez won Los Che's La Liga and UEFA Cup double before leaving, in tears, for Liverpool.
All this and many nights when he and his young friends would take their free places (as students of the youth system) in Mestalla and be like, " Imagine playing here and scoring and everyone chanting your name!" "
Soler admits, “I was like, 'F -! I don't think I can imagine this happening already. ''
But it's Sunday night, the last La Liga game in the ninth round. The champions of Spain, starred but exhausted, have a 1-0 lead and he just missed a penalty. Worse yet, referee Gil Manzano jogs over to the VAR monitor to see if Yunus' goal should be disallowed. There was an encroachment. And so, here we are again, Carlos.
The penalty was awarded at 28:22 minutes. But it wasn't until 32:55 that Manzano ordered the restart, and it was 34:12 that Soler rushed to beat again the Belgian giant Courtois, who seemed to fill his mouth with goal the first time around, even before making . the backup. Six minutes later, with so much riding on it, it's even hard to see the net on either side of its long telescoping arms.
In Soler's own words:
“As the VAR debate unfolded, there were doubts whether I would accept it if the referee denied the goal. In fact, we came to a point where Daniel Wass was going to hit the recovery.
“My method is to try not to hit the ball until I see the slightest movement of the keeper – and Courtois guessed which direction the first one was going. He is good at holding on and waiting until the last moment before moving. The bigger he is – if you don't put the ball right in the corner, he'll get his hands on it. But I thought to myself that I train all the time, I score in training, so I decided that if VAR refused the goal but ordered a penalty, then I would go back.
“When I was getting ready to race for the second time, of course, all the Madrid players told me that” Courtois made you work! And "Put it in the middle this time" and so on.
“It comes with the territory. But last week against Getafe had shown me that I can score under pressure so I was confident – and when he came in it gave me a lot of confidence regarding the next two penalties. "
It has become the statistic heard around the world: never before, in more than a century of competition, has a referee awarded three penalties against Madrid. Soler – admittedly not without blood, sweat and tears – marked them all.
Thanks to grandfather and grandfather and to their goal mouth painted in the garden; thanks to Lim for insisting on slaughtering the big wages and selling Parejo to Villarreal; thanks to Djene and his long histrionics the previous week.
Thanks to a demon and an angel fighting over Soler's shoulders in a universal depiction of "What if I fail / what if I succeed?" »Debate which has always – and always will be – tormented all of us. And thanks to the fact that Valencia-daft Soler, the ball boy who is now their leader, really believed that training makes perfect.
At least the perfect story.