El Centrocampista

Must Win, Did Win – Granada fans roar their side to victory

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EFE

Having lost their previous match at Levante and with Zaragoza and Sporting Gijon picking up crucial points the previous match day, nothing less than a win would do for Granada against Espanyol on Tuesday.

The importance of the match wasn’t lost on Granada fans, with fan forums buzzing throughout the week as the two most vocal groups “Sección Kolokon” of the southern end of the stadium and “Los Malayerbas” of the northern end, planned to greet their team as they arrived before the game… and greet them they did!

Shortly after 4pm, a full repertoire of songs and chants, flares, smoke bombs and bangers, met the Granada CF team bus making its way to the stadium entrance.

By contrast as kick-off time approached inside the stadium, you could almost hear a pin drop, such was the pre-match tension and nerves. Moments before the 6pm kick-off time though, as soon as the PA system played the club anthem and the teams took to the field, the noise became deafening.

As with every match at Nuevo Los Cármenes, after the initial burst from the PA system, the sound is muted and the fans take over a capella.

Everyone around the stadium standing, scarves waved in the air and chanting for their team, the match kicked off. Prior to the game, at kick-off time, throughout the entire ninety minutes and beyond, this wasn’t just another league game. It was like being in the play-offs again, with those having gained promotion to Liga BBVA, this match could secure the status of the club in the top flight.

Both teams played nervously in the opening moments of the game, but it was Granada who twice tested the hands of Espanyol keeper Álvarez., early on. Espanyol began to find some momentum though, started dominating possession, then carve out chances of their own. Forlín managed to escape his marker in the box from a corner, but his free header went over the crossbar. Moments later it needed a fine save from Granada keeper Julio César, finally finding his confidence, to parry a rocket of a shot from Romaric.

With Espanyol looking the more likely to make a breakthrough, Granada seemed to be struggling to turn any of their own forward momentum, into clear chances. This game would need a little magic. Something from a talismanic, iconic figure perhaps?

Step up Odion Ighalo. Already regarded as somewhat of a legend at Granade, even though he’s still only 22, the Nigerian forward who scored the crucial and decisive goals that won two consecutive promotions.

A good run and low cross from Jara on the right found Ighalo in the box, back to goal and with two Espanyol defenders behind him. Showing great close control, he flicked the ball between his own legs and between the two defenders, before slotting the ball home for the opening goal. Cometh the half-hour (in this case), cometh the man.

Granada fans in raptures, they’d only have to wait another five minutes for the second to arrive. Another move from the right, this time with Mikel Rico firing a deep cross into the box. The Espanyol defence should have handled the cross with ease, but having somehow bypassed three defenders, the ball found its way to Ighalo once more, to tap in at the far post. The stadium erupted once more to the chants of “Iga… Ighalo… Iga… IGHALO!”

In the second-half and with what looked like a comfortable lead, Granada would proceed to do what they have done so often over recent weeks, even recent years. Make life difficult for themselves and test the nerves of their long suffering fans, right up to the final whistle.

Espanyol looking to get back into the game, they pushed and probed, whilst Granada defended stubbornly. Ten minutes into the second-half and having so far failed to capitalise closer to goal, a speculative long-range daisy cutter from Dídac beat Granada keeper César, going in off the post.

Granada began to sit deeper, looking to counter-attack, but after one such counter broke down, Espanyol themselves went on the break. A defence splitting pass from Verdú put Couthinho through on goal, but with Granada full-back Cortés on his shoulder, he failed to strike his effort cleanly.

Espanyol continued to push an probe. Vladimir Weiss (on loan from Manchester City) was ever dangerous from the wing, whilst former Espanyol veteran Moises Hurtado continued his recent run of form for Granada, thwarting his former team through the middle.

Two great saves would then decide the final outcome of the match, both from corners. A superb reaction save from Alvarez prevented what looked an almost certain goal from Iñigo López. Whilst César tipped a headed corner from Rui Fonte, destined for the roof of the net, over the crossbar.

As the final whistle blew, amid roars of delight, mixed with sighs of relief, some of the exhausted Granada players fell to the ground, whilst others celebrated with the fans. Many of those fans stayed behind after the game, with Granada players returning from the changing room to both celebrate and thank them for their support.

That wasn’t to be the final cheer of the day though. Already packing cafes and bars around the stadium, fans were keen to see the outcome of the Sporting Gijón versus Villarreal match being broadcast. Each of the Villarreal goals met with a cheer and the final whistle of that match with a roar that could be heard down all the streets near Granada’s stadium.

Defeat for Sporting Gijón means they cannot catch Granada and, with just two games remaining, Zaragoza are now the only side in the bottom three that can still threaten the Andalucians top flight status.

 




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