Goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri is devestated after Getafe lost to Bayern Munich. (Getty Images)
Soccer: John F. Molinaro
Getafe can hold its head high
Last Updated Friday, April 10, 2008
by John F. Molinaro, CBC Sports
Determination and heart, thy name is Getafe.
Getafe (pronounced "He-ta-feh") lost its UEFA Cup quarter-final against German powerhouse and four-time European champion Bayern Munich this week, but the Spanish club won plenty of praise for the gutsy way it exited the tournament.
The Spaniards, appearing in their first-ever European competition, caused a bit of stir when they carved out a 1-1 draw in the opening leg of the series in Germany, which meant all Getafe had to do was earn a 0-0 draw or a victory (by any score) in the second leg Thursday to advance to the semifinals.
Getafe's chances off pulling off the upset took a hit when its best player, midfielder Ruben de la Red, was sent off after only six minutes following a red-card offence. Things went from bad to worse just 14 minutes later, when the club's most dangerous striker, Nigerian Ikechukwu Uche, left the game with a hamstring injury.
And yet, it was Getafe that took the lead — Romanian defender Cosmin Contra beat Oliver Khan, widely regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, just before halftime.
Getafe was on the verge of recording a truly historic upset and looked set to take its place in the semifinals, but Bayern equalized late in regulation, leading to extra time. Undaunted, the Spaniards pressed forward and, despite being a man down, they bagged two quick goals to take a 3-1 lead.
Surely, Getafe would not be denied again. But it was. Italian Luca Toni found the net twice in the final five minutes of the extra frame to help the Germans earn a 3-3 draw and advance to the semifinals on the away-goals rule. Getafe, for all of its fight and vigour, was eliminated under the cruellest of circumstances.
Spaniards denied by Germans
Toni's second goal, literally in the last minute of the game, doomed the Spaniards, but their heroic effort in coming within seconds of upsetting Bayern — and doing it having played a man short for 113 minutes — won the universal praise of the Spanish sports media.
"Despite it all, you are our heroes," Spanish sports daily Marca said on its front page.
"It was an immense, unforgettable match that was on the point of sealing one of the greatest feats in Spanish football, but instead finished bathed in tears," offered AS, another Spanish sports daily.
The King of Spain, who watched the game from the stands, passed along a message to Getafe president Angel Torres after the heartbreaking loss.
"His majesty asked me to give coach Michael Laudrup and his players his best wishes and to congratulate them for the effort they put in," said Angel.
"I think the whole of Spain was with us tonight and this is something to be proud of."
Even Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld could not deny his team was second best on the night.
"I have to compliment Getafe and Laudrup as they played a great game and were on the point of humiliating us. They deserved to win," Hitzfeld said.
Miracle run in UEFA Cup
That Getafe even made it to the quarter-finals was no small miracle.
The modest Spanish league club from the southern suburbs of Madrid is currently competing in only its fourth season in Spain's top division, and this was its first European campaign, after earning a UEFA berth by reaching the final of Spain's Copa del Ray (King's Cup) in 2007.
Yet they played like seasoned pros, having disposed of Tottenham Hotspur, Anderlecht and Benfica — all veterans of European club competitions — to make the UEFA Cup last eight.
And then came Bayern Munich, the Bavarian giants who have won four European Cups/Champions League titles and have played more than 400 games in European club competitions. Compare that to Getafe, which was playing in only it 12th European club match Thursday and as little as four seasons ago was slugging it out in the Spanish second division.
If ever there was a mismatch this was it, but someone forgot to tell Getafe. The Spaniards deviated from the script and outplayed Bayern, a team littered with international superstars, and should have won, but for Luca Toni's late heroics.
Despite the loss, the Madrilenian club won the hearts of the whole of Spain — no mean feat in a country that has historically been divided by a rigid sense of regionalism.
Getafe will one day return to the UEFA stage, and it'll be interesting to see what it does for an encore, because its opening act was a show-stealer.
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