Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Arabian night

Following their surgical dissection of a hapless Orihuela B, Santa Pola headed back up the Autopista to take on league leaders and probable Preferente Group Four champions Benissa. Four points clear at the top of the pile, Benissa have looked the part all season, except for the first match against 'Pola back in November which they lost 4-3.

About seventy kilometres north of Alicante, Benissa is an agreeable little Spanish town that would be even more so if anywhere was actually open in the place on a Sunday afternoon. An hour or so before kick off, at about four thirty, the only signs of life were a team of scaffolders busy erecting, or maybe even dismantling, a huge sound stage and lighting rig that, presumably, were just about to be used for one of those open air gigs the Spanish do so fantastically well. Most of the small bars and cafeterias in the immediate vicinity weren't just closed they looked suspiciously empty too. Eventually, just as the need for a pee was becoming slightly more pressing, my travelling companion and I chanced across a small bar with signs of activity. Suitably fed and watered with a slightly pricey baguette and diet coke, beggars can't be choosers and the owner clearly had this sussed, we headed off to enjoy a spot of footy. And enjoy it we most certainly did!

By now I'm sure I've already mentioned that Santa Pola, in against a decent side, seem to raise their game and perform better than admirably, this is all well and good except that dropped points or defeats against shit teams are really hard to stomach. Today, 'Pola gained one point or dropped two, choose how you want to look at it, but couldn't have done anything more or differently to grab all three. Somehow, the game finished goal-less and it wouldn't be remiss to suggest the home side held on for a hard won point, Santa Pola were awesome with fifteen immense performances from the starting eleven and four substitutes.

Game 29 of the season was something like a frantic cup tie played out in front of a full house with both sides rising to the occasion, the only difference was only about two hundred odd people bothered to turn up and. of those, over half , once again, were visiting fans. Benissa started brighter and for a brief moment, until they found their feet, Santa Pola had to work hard in midfield and defence to stay level. Once they'd composed themselves, particularly after a goal less first half, the Marineros played their best football of the season, such was their fluency and high tempo, they made an extremely good side very uncomfortable for long periods.

Thankfully, in an end to end match of high quality the referee for the day was also up to the challenge, perhaps the game was as good as it was because of his officiating. Both sides pinged the ball about with some style and not once did man in black, Alberola Elena from Gandia, fail to keep up with the pace of things. Twice in the final five minutes he made key decisions in the Santa Pola penalty area which could haved influenced the result. Benissa forward Xabi Torres went down under a fifty fifty challenge by 'Pola centre-back, the outstanding Miguel, and was harshly booked for simulation.  With a minute or less to go, visiting hearts sank, Monsa upended the same player and this time the 'Pola captain was yellow carded and  argued in vain as Sr.Elena pointed to the spot. Faced with all their hard work and effort coming to nothing and a point less journey home, Monsa and his colleagues had goal-keeper Julio to thank for making the afternoon worthwhile. Diving low to his left he pawed out the weak penalty Xabi Torres had just side footed towards the base of his left hand post. There was no time for the resulting corner.
Full time Benissa 0 - 0 Santa Pola

Afterwards, a different route home yielded far quicker success in the hunt for a cafeteria in which to knock up four or five hundred words describing the match for the English newspaper. I don't even remember the name of the place opposite which we parked up on the busy N332 road, but I'll never forget the clientele, we were the only two people in the place with parents not of Bedouin origin. It was like a bleedin' Kasbah, complete with one or two insolent looking North African youths each taking their turn on ornate hookah pipes. I stuck out like a dogs nob!  An hour or so later we headed for the car, my laptop and camera still in my possession, not daring to look back. If there are any blunders in the match report you can probably understand why.

PHOTOS - from top to bottom
The laws of supply and demand also include Diet Coke.
Mario Fernandez - an immense performance, again.
Julio with a last minute penalty save.
Complicated looking but very popular.

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