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The debut of Iago Aspas

junio 3, 2013

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June 6th, 2009. Vigo. The local team, Celta, receives Alavés in the third last round of the Spanish Second Division. There are only three points between two teams that have astonished Europe in this century: Alavés pushing Liverpool to the limit in the UEFA Cup final, Celta defeating AC Milan in the Champions League, and humiliating Juventus at home in the UEFA Cup. Those have been the big nights for these currently struggling teams. Now both clubs are fighting for survival, trying to escape from relegation to Segunda B, a kind of a dark hole for professional football teams.

Alavés, with severe institutional problems, already seemed relegated some rounds ago but have improved their performance and results. They travel to Vigo for a last gasp attempt. A win would give them some chance of staying in the category. It is a six-points match.

The script is the usual that has disquieted Celta supporters throughout the season. The hosts hold ball possession but create few chances. Alavés wait for opportunities, trying to strike at every error of the rival. After an uneventful hour, Eusebio Sacristán, who has been Celta’s manager for three months and who is supposed to go at the end of the season, makes a substitution. It’s the debut of Iago Aspas, a 21 year old, who has been playing in the Celta youth ranks since he was eight.

Everybody who follows Celta closely knows Aspas. He is the star of the youth squad and young brother of a former player, Jonathan, but he hasn’t had any chance to play for the first team apart from some odd appearances in friendly matches. Everybody is sceptical of this substitution though. The team looks shaky as time plays out and the match calls for experience, but there are no veteran forwards on the bench.

The starlet increases the pressure on Alavés’ defence and pushes Celta forward but he misses two chances. Then, in the 80th minute another Celta farm product, Dani Abalo, crosses from the right flank and Iago heads the ball into the empty space between both of Alavés’ centre-back a. He runs crazily, takes his shirt off, and grabs a boom microphone to scream his first goal with the team he loves.

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Everybody is relieved but there are still ten minutes of nervousness to secure another year in the second division of Spanish football. The regulation time is almost up when Juanjo equalizes for Alavés taking advantage of one of the common mistakes of a team that has been unable to control matches. Especially when they were leading.  Four minutes of injury time to play and the guests have another chance, a shot from short range that stops time in Vigo. Silence and then screams.

A defeat would not have been the end but it sure would have felt like it. Fortunately for Celta, the shot goes wide. With a draw, Celta will only need one win in the last two matches, but it won’t be an easy task. There are doubts about a team that was formed to fight for promotion to the Primera, players that are ashamed to be playing for such low objectives, a squad that is afraid of sending Celta to Segunda B. Relegation would be a disaster for a club that is also suffering a serious financial crisis and that has gone into administration.

Then, in the dying moments of the match, there’s a sudden shot from the right, Bernardo, Alavés’ goalkeeper, deflects it towards the place where Iago Aspas is, aware and ready to bury the ball in the net. He can’t believe it, he runs to the stands, jumping, hugging everyone, he has saved Celta in his first match with two goals that secures another chance for an historic club.

The match is over, journalists run across the field to get the first quotes from the players. Iago Aspas, talks about how hard he has worked to get this opportunity to play. Meanwhile, his young team mate, Dani Abalo, already established in the first team, can’t stop saying “Iago is the best, he is the best”.

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