The unique sound of Spanish football commentary might normally be regarded as a thing of beauty; a description of free-flowing, alluring football in its purest form. Not quite that for me on Saturday at the Benito Villamarín, though, on my first away trip with Sevilla’s media team.
A police escort guided the team bus ahead of our minibus for the short three-mile trip to the south of the city ahead of El Gran Derbi, where we were greeted by a green-and-white wall of Betis fans, primed to intimidate their visitors with flares, chants and sheer number. With the on-going building work on the ground there would be no Sevilla fans in attendance to offer any parity.
Accreditation sorted and we were in, walking up to the top tier of the main stand. While on the surface it looks tired and weathered, Betis’ home is quite the venue. Despite only three sides of the ground being open, some 41,263 Béticos still crammed in – food for thought for when the three-tier stand currently under construction is completed.
Up in the heavens, the press box stretched across a considerable number of rows, with no segregation between fans and journalists; something that would prove to be somewhat of a problem later.
Heading in to the game on the back of an underwhelming 2-1 home-victory over Leicester in the Champions League, Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli and his side looked to secure a second Derbi win of the season that would, momentarily, send them joint-top of La Liga ahead of Sunday’s fixtures.
But the hostile atmosphere served its purpose and Sevilla were dominated in a first half that saw Betis’ lightning-quick Danish left-back Riza Durmisi dispatch a 30-yard free-kick through a hole in the wall and into the bottom left hand corner, beyond the reach of Sergio Rico.
Without a single shot on goal before the interval, and with the usually-impressive Steven NZonzi anonymous in midfield, Sampaoli made two changes at half-time with Vicente Iborra – who is becoming something of a super-sub – coming on to fill the void beside NZonzi in the heart of midfield.
The tide changed in an instant and Sevilla were on top. On 56 minutes, Argentinian defender Gabriel Mercado bundled home the rebound after Samir Nasri found Iborra’s head with an inch perfect free-kick delivery to draw Sevilla level. Silence fell on what had been a volcanic atmosphere, and it was strange to see a goal go in and not hear the roar of an away end.
Mercado can now boast to be the first player to win and score in both Derbis in a debut-season since his prolific compatriot Héctor Scotta.
Betis were a shadow of the side that had found Sevilla wanting so badly in the first-half, and it wasn’t long until the visitors went ahead with almost a carbon copy of the equaliser.
Nasri, again, with a set piece delivery, found NZonzi whose header back across goal found Iborra at the back post – with more than a whiff of offside about it – for the substitute to prod home past Adán.
No other team have had substitutes score more goals than Sevilla this season.
Off Sevilla’s no.8 ran to celebrate with the substitutes warming up on the touchline but even an extravagant knee-slide could not top the celebration of Sevilla’s matchday commentator, Germán Mora, whose delivery of a rather impeccable ‘Goooooooooool, gol–gol–gol–gol, gooooooool’, would compete with the passion and excitement of any third-division Ecuadorian commentary video that pops up on your Facebook news feed.
I was one of very few who enjoyed hearing such a work of vocal art from the commentary position behind me, as what must have been hundreds of fuming Betis fans proceeded to hurl abuse his way, with some even running up the steps towards Germán, with a feeble-looking security guard wishing he’d stayed at home.
14 minutes later and the referee blew his whistle to confirm Sevilla’s position at the top of La Liga, with Sampaoli’s squad congregating in the centre circle to celebrate a spirited comeback in a huddle.
We should’ve been off to the hear the post-match thoughts of both managers, but a wall of furious Béticos, having spotted the Sevilla media pack dressed in in ill-thought-out red colours, formed between our end of the press bench and the exit. Plenty of pointing, “we’ll see you out there” and general threatening behaviour saw the English hacks who we’d met before the game offer a sympathetically mouthed “all the best”, before heading downstairs to safety.
It took a good half hour for these fans to disperse and, having missed the post-match comments, we were hurried on to the minibus where another police convoy took us to the Meliá Lebreros hotel, the team hotel around the corner from the Sánchez-Pizjuán, where thousands of Sevillistas were waiting to welcome their team. Chaos all round.