Greetings from Spain once again! The teaching year is almost upon me again, but before it starts I managed to fit in a weekend trip to the historic city of Córdoba, which included a trip to see Córdoba CF’s La Liga 2 game against CD Lugo.
The city of Córdoba has been a major centre since pre-Roman times but reached its apogee between the 9th and 11th centuries as the capital of Muslim Al-Andalus, when it was arguably the most advanced city in Western Europe. The most famous relic of that era is the Mezquita de Córdoba, the great mosque turned Christian cathedral, which dominates the city’s old town (picture on the left). With all that history, and a football team, is it any surprise I chose to pay it a visit?
Córdoba have spent most of their existence in La Segunda and Segunda B, but have also spent 9 seasons in La Liga, achieving a highest finish of 5th in 1965. Two years ago they achieved a surprise promotion back to the top flight after winning the Segunda play-offs, but the following season was nothing short of a nightmare, only achieving three win and seeing relegation confirmed with an 8-0 humbling at the hands of Barcelona. 2016/17 sees them trying to make it back to the promised land of La Liga once again, having fallen short in the play-offs last season.
The Estadio Nuevo Arcángel is a somewhat curious beast. Although little over 20 years old, it has been extensively remodelled from its original configuration, which was open behind both goals and included everyone’s least favourite football stadium feature, an athletics track. Thankfully the ground I saw bears little resemblance to this, instead Córdoba now play in a fully enclosed, trackless ground which boasts excellent views of the pitch. One of the unorthodox features of the construction is that that the stands behind the goals appear to tuck in under the roof of that on the eastern side.
For an out-of-town stadium, it’s not the most difficult to get to, probably helped by its proximity to a large shopping centre. Regular buses leave from the city centre and drop you off within easy walking distance. It’s not so far that you couldn’t walk there, though given that Córdoba is one of Europe’s hottest cities, that’s probably not a good idea. As the game kicked off at 9pm, the temperature was still in the high 30’s. You don’t get that at an evening kick off back home!
After a lap of the stadium by Córdoba’s slightly creepy anthropomorphic crocodile mascot, the game kicked off with the home side making most of the running and they were rewarded with an excellent opening goal from striker Rodri after 20 minutes, but were pegged back just before the break by a goal from Lugo’s Campillo in a counter-attack from a Córdoba corner.
A string of corners at the start of the second half ultimately led to the home team winning a penalty, converted by Rodri, although for me the highlight was the aforementioned mascot getting a little carried away in his celebrations with the crowd and almost losing his head in the process. Yet from this excellent position, Córdoba let the game slip away from them. The lead lasted for barely ten minutes and then with 13 minutes left, they fell behind. The atmosphere had been good throughout the game, but it now became more frantic as the ultras behind each goal desperately urged their team forward.
There was one last sting in the tail and unfortunately for Lugo, it came about as the result of a substitution they’d made to help them protect the lead. Serge Leuko entered the field on 83 minutes and had a quiet enough game until a spectacularly counter-productive 89th minute, where he first conceded a penalty, was booked for the foul and then received a second yellow card for his protestations. After a lengthy delay, Juli converted the penalty to salvage a point for the hosts. One of those games that either side could have won, but come the final whistle, both were presumably happy to settle for a point. As a neutral I was thoroughly entertained, two sides who attacked and produced a frenetic, open, end-to-end game. My first game in Spain this season has set the bar incredibly high.