Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Pride of Hercules

NOTE: The updatyed daily excerpts of Bienvenido Al Infierno can now be found at

The 1996-1997 La Liga season is best remembered for the torrid goal-scoring prowess that Brazilian striker Ronaldo displayed week in and week out for FC Barcelona. Yet for many Barcelona fans, that season left a bitter taste due to the second place finish to champions and eternal rivals Real Madrid.

A large part for the reason why the Bobby Robson-led Barcelona finished as runners-up was because a modest club from Alicante beat the Catalan giants twice. Even more stunning was that both wins came in the form of comebacks, including a surreal 2-3 victory after having trailed 2-0 in the first half at the Nou Camp. So who was that club? It was Hercules.

It was a one and done that season for Hercules who then over time slowly sank all the way down to the Segunda B before earning promotion back to the Segunda for the 2005-2006 campaign.

After a successful season last year that saw them finish in the top five, Hercules now sit on the doorstep to promotion and the man leading them is Esteban Vigo.

Known to American soccer fans as the coach who didn't play Jozy Altidore for four months, Vigo coached Xerez to their first ever promotion to the Primera and then promptly left to take the reins at Hercules. An odd decision for sure, but then again, so was choosing not to play the US striker.

Hercules sit in second place currently in the Segunda with 51 points. While fans of about 20 other teams would kill to be in that position, the Hercules faithful have started wringing their hands of late.

The club isn't playing well having dropped their last two matches including a puzzling 0-1 loss at home to Las Palmas last weekend. There was also the 1-2 loss at home to bottom feeder Castellon which basically started this rut.

Xerez went through a similar stretch last season where a fair number of points were left on the table before Vigo managed to right the ship.

The same opportunity awaits the Alicante club this weekend when they make the quick trip over to Murcia, a team that was a Quiniela's player's delight earlier in the season with their seven consecutive draws to open the campaign.

Murcia has since improved and have climbed out of the relegation zone and will pose a tough test. Vigo will be looking to his foreign fowards up front in the form of Romanian Ionel Danciulescu and Andrija Delibasic of Montenegro to add to their season total of 13 goals.

The back is manned by Javier Farinos, who is just 31 even though it seems he has been around forever. Farinos was part of the 2000 Valencia team that fell to Madrid in that season's Champions League final. He then went on to play for Inter Milan in Italy before returning home to Spain with stints at Villarreal and Mallorca. Vigo will require a strong game out of the veteran to slow down Murcia who have accrued 10points in their last 12 matches.

In the past, this is when we have seen Vigo get the best out of his squads and fans tuning in for a Friday night special at the Nueva Condomina will get a chance to see why he is one of the best coaches in Spain.

Fun In The Sun

NOTE: Weekly excerpts of Bienvenido Al Infierno can now be found at

If there is one thing that the Spanish love in addition to their futbol, it is having a party. What’s even better for them is when they can actually combine the two vices and if there is one place in particular where a contingent of the Spanish population excels at excess, it is in Cadiz.

The sun-baked city of just over 100,000 people is known historically for being a port city and a destination where pale and pasty northern Europeans can come down to southwestern Spain and get a tan.

Unfortunately their futbol history is a bit underwhelming. There have been several different stints in the Primera Division throughout the years, including a recent spell during the 2005-2006 season. But shortly after that, Cadiz went into a free-fall and landed in the Segunda B.

Redemption came in the form of promotion back to the Segunda for the 2009-2010 season but three points have been hard to come by this year for the club.

To their credit, the Cadiz CF faithful continue to come in large droves to the Estadio Ramon de Carrazza. Better yet, the fans cheer regardless if it’s a win or loss.

Granted, a victory makes them happier, but unlike many fan bases which see alcohol consumption lead to violence, the polar opposite happens to Cadiz fans who seem to revel in partaking with the opposing teams’ fans and openly declare that win or lose, as long as they have their ‘copa’ then they’ll be just fine.

Well, this past weekend’s victory may have very well bankrupted the local bars because it was certainly one to remember.

Real Madrid’s comeback versus Sevilla on Saturday got the national headlines but Cadiz’s heart stopping win over Albacete was far more impressive. Down 1-3, the home team rallied to score three goals in 12 minutes late in the second half and pulled off an improbable victory which was all started by a legend in Spanish futbol.

Diego Tristan will forever be remembered for his goal-scoring prowess with the wonderful ‘SuperDepor’ teams from the early 2000s, including their mastery of Real Madrid in the final of the 2002 Copa del Rey, hence known as the ‘Centenariazo’.

After stints in Italy and England, Tristan is now back in Spain with Cadiz. He scored the second Cadiz goal in classic Tristan style when he lodged himself between defender and booted in a ball off a set piece.

The crowd at the Ramond de Carrazza erupted after the grizzled vet’s goal and just minutes later Enrique and Fragoso added their own strikes to claim the win.

It was a huge victory over the Castilla La Mancha side and still keeps 20th place Cadiz within an arm's length of the safety zone.

It might be snowing in other parts of Spain right now but the fans in Cadiz are believing that their team is warming up at just the right time.

Back On Track?

NOTE: Weekly excerpts from Bienvenido Al Infierno can now be found on
Because of the stellar play by Segunda Division leaders Hercules and Real Sociedad, it is really the race for the third and final promotion spot that is giving us some good drama at the top of the Segunda Division standings.

One team that many experts thought would finish in the top three was Betis after the storied Sevilla club were shockingly relegated on the final day of last season.

To the credit of the club, the bulk of the players stuck around in hopes of returning to the Primera. But things haven’t gone as planned. Betis have floundered all season long, puzzling their fans who even took it upon themselves to egg the cars of several players during a poor stretch back during the fall.

But the spirits of the Beticos remain strong and a solid contingent of them made the six hour drive from Sevilla to Cartagena on Sunday to watch their ‘Verdiblancos’ face the newly-promoted upstarts who sit in that desired third place spot. Eight points separated the two clubs heading into the match, essentially making it a do or die affair.

Played in front of a season-high crowd at the quirky Estadio Cartagonova, one of those oddball stadiums where there is a small lower-level before a bigger upper level, the visiting fans went home happy after seeing their beloved Betis put together arguably their finest effort on the season.

Goals by Jonathan Pereira and Mehmet Aurelio made the difference in the 1-2 victory. Pereira might sound like a familiar name and it should. Way back in week two of last year’s Primera season, Pereira scored for Racing against Barcelona to earn the Cantabrians a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou . His goal raised red flags that maybe this Pep Guardiola guy wasn’t cut out for the job as Barca coach. Strange as it seems now in light of what happened the rest of the year, Pereira effectively gave Pep his first and only ‘crisis’ as a head coach.

The other goalscorer, Aurelio, is one of these Brazilian-born players who decided that his chances of making the Canarinho were slim so becoming a Turkish citizen would prove to be an easier route to international play. He was right and is a regular member of the Turkish player pool. His club history is quality as well. Auerelio was part of that 2008 Fenerbahce team which took out Sevilla in the Round of 16 of the Champions League. Needless to say, he was welcomed with open arms by the Betis fans whose disdain for their crosstown rivals never ceases to amaze.

This all leads to the larger point that Betis have quality players on its squad, and the fact that they seem stuck around sixth place in the Segunda Division is a hair-scratcher. Could Sunday’s win be a turnaround? Perhaps, but they still wouldn’t be a firm bet on my Quiniela.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Lean Times In Vallecas

It was a move made by the LFP (Liga de Futbol Profesional) a couple months ago that outlined a new schedule that would see a Segunda Division match played on Friday night while the Primera Division would get their own version of Monday Night Futbol.

This was not an entirely new experiement as Monday night games were part of the Spanish schedule as recently as the mid to late 90s. I can clearly recall from my days of study abroad watching a couple tantalizing Monday night affairs, including a pulsating 1-1 draw between Betis and Real Madrid at the Villamarin.

Fast forward about a dozen years and in an effort to receive more television revenue, the weekend schedule has been expanded out to help bookend Saturday and Sunday. One of those Friday matches will be played today in the southern part of Madrid, also known as Vallecas, between Rayo Vallecano and Castellon. As chronicled here before, Rayo has a loyal fan base that can be often radical, if not militant.

Well, a group of supporters called Los Bukaneros have decided enough is enough with the LFP trying to maximize revenues and they have announced that they will strike and not attend Friday's match. The group makes up a decent chunk of the Estadio Teresa Rivero so it is sure to stand out should TV cameras elect to pan around the stadium.

The far left-leaning group actually has a point. To change up the schedule so that a league match now falls on a weeknight, or rather a work night, instead of a weekend is a bit unfair and these supporters are taking it personally. Essentially, their voice is that they refuse to be pawns in some sort of larger game between the LFP and media conglomerates who pay to broadcast the matches. Their further claim is that there is a widening gap between the fan and the game of futbol and they won't have any more of it.

It's interesting that this surfaces in the wake of the recent firing of coach Pepe Mel. The very popular head man had helped Rayo climb out of the Segunda B and back to El Infierno during the 2007-2008 season. Rayo even made a charge at gaining promotion to the Primera, a place they occupied ironically back in the mid to late 90s when Monday Night Futbol was still around.

Anyhow, the saddened words of Pepe Mel truly showed his love for Rayo but that perhaps he had lost the locker room. They are now in 10th with 32 points and much closer to being relegated than earning promotion. Picking up four pints in their last eight matches made the decision a bit easier for club officials.

It's a shame that it came to this because you'd like to see 'a member of the family' like Mel bring a club back to its greatness but alas, it was not meant to be.

Only one word can be used to descrivbe last week's Quiniela - Atrocious. The rash of upsets including Girona beating Real Sociedad and Cartagena and Hercules tying castellon and Cadiz respectively were never seen coming. I've I had taken the opposite picks, it would have been a winner!

Huesca - R. Sociedad 2
Numancia - Gimnástic X
Salamanca - Murcia 1
Levante - Las Palmas 1
Córdoba - Elche 2
Hércules - Celta 1
Recreativo - Cádiz X
Albacete - Villarreal B X
Cartagena - Betis 1
Rayo - Castellón 1
Real Unión - Girona X


1 Hércules - 48
2 R. Sociedad - 47
3 Cartagena - 44
4 Levante - 40
5 Numancia - 39
6 Villarreal B - 37
7 Betis - 36
8 Elche - 35
9 Gimnástic - 35
10 Rayo - 32
11 Huesca - 32
12 Córdoba - 32
13 Salamanca - 31
14 Recreativo - 30
15 Las Palmas - 29
16 Celta - 29
17 Girona - 29
18 Albacete - 28
19 Murcia - 26
20 Cádiz - 25
21 Real Unión - 24
22 Castellón - 21

Friday, February 19, 2010


It's not a long list. In fact, I think you can count on one hand the number of goalkeepers who have been called to duty up front and have delivered. OK, that's is probably an exagerration. Plenty of goalkeepers have been designated by their coaches to take a penalty kick and have come through. Fair enough. But not that many have either scored during the run of play or from a set piece.

Jose Luis Chilavert, the former Zaragoza keeper who made his mark with Velez in the Argentinean league, boasts a whopping 62 goals scored in his career. Often the Paraguayan was called on to take penalty kicks and free kicks and he did so with aplomb. 'Chila' will forever go down as the most prolific goalscoring keeper in soccer history most likely.

Another keeper who comes to mind is Andres Palop who scored on a header in stoppage time for Sevilla back in 2007 to beat Shakhtar Donetsk in a UEFA Cup knockout round match. Palop was mobbed by teammates afterwards and rightly so. Without it, Sevilla never goes on to win its second consecutive UEFA Cup when they defeated fellow Spanish club Espanyol in PKs... thanks to Palop.

Well, in El Infierno, we had our own moment of goalkeeper goalscoring madness when Real Sociedad's Claudio Bravo stepped up to take a free kick just outside the area against Gimnastic de Tarragona. With Anoeta chanting his name, the Chilean netminder delivered. Bravo's effort went through the Nastic wall and drew enough of a deflection to wrong-foot the Nastic keeper and hit the back of the net. The stadium went nuts, his teammates piled on him and Bravo got some of the top billing on all the weekend highlight shows.

Heck, Bravo was so impressed with his own striking ability that he admitted himself the next day that he turned on the television just so he could watch his own highlight. Hey, if a goalkeeper scores a goal, he has every reason to brag a little! What gave him even more pleasure was the reception he got from his teammates who were thrilled. One, because the goal earne dthem the win giving Sociedad another three points and inching closer to a return to the Primera and two, because, well, goalies just aren't suppose to score... or are they?

On to the Quiniela!

Not exactly a bad effort last week. Started off 3-0 but only ended up winning 5 games. Most puzzling result had to have been Girona's 0-3 win at Rayo. Troubling times seem to be surfacing in Vallecas.

Girona - R. Sociedad 2
Gimnástic - Huesca X
Murcia - Numancia X
Las Palmas - Salamanca X
Elche - Levante X
Cádiz - Hércules 2
Villarreal B - Recreativo 1
Betis - Albacete 1
Castellón - Cartagena 2
Real Unión - Rayo 1
Celta - Córdoba X


1. Hércules - 47
2. R. Sociedad - 47
3. Cartagena - 43
4. Levante - 39
5. Numancia - 39
6. Villarreal B - 36
7. Betis - 35
8. Elche - 34
9. Gimnástic - 35
10. Córdoba - 32
11. Rayo - 31
12. Salamanca - 30
13. Huesca - 29
14. Recreativo - 29
15. Las Palmas - 28
16. Albacete - 27
17. Celta - 26
18. Girona - 26
19. Cádiz - 24
20. Murcia - 23
21. Real Unión - 21
22. Castellón - 19

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On to the Vuelta

With the first half of the season now concluded in El Infierno, we can take a step back and surmise everything that has transpired in the first 21 weeks of the season. We are actually slightly past halfway now due to my lapse in posting on this blog.

Anyhow, you shouldn't worry about me as there are others out there that need alot of help. In fact, I'll tell which clubs are starting to "sudar en las manos".

Lo malo:

Betis - By far the most disappointing campaign. The Beticos in Sevilla are upset and there is zero consistency to be found within the club. Even their own fans took to egging some of the players cars as they left training one day. They are a zealous bunch and it doesn't sit well that their neighbors down the road at the Sanchez Pijuan have a comfy spot in the Champions League knockout round. Betis lay six points behind third place Cartagena for the final promotion spot. It's a distance that can certainly be made up, but nothing from the previous six months suggests that will happen.

Murcia - I still can't help but shake my head that this club was in the Primera just two years ago. And the thing was that they were playing consderably well sitting mid table and there were whispers of a run towards a European spot. Then the fall back to reality resulted in relegation the El Infierno and now this year we had Murcua start the season with a head-scratching seven consecutive draws. This endeared them to the Quiniela aficionados in the beginning, but as of late, their play has generally been poor as the club sit in the relegation zone again. The Segunda B is a deep dark place and Murcia look destined to be there come fall.

Lo bueno:

Cartagena - With all due respect to Real Sociedad and Hercules, the top two teams in El Infierno, the team that has exceeded everyone's expectations is Cartagena. Speaking of the deep dark Segunda B, that's where Cartagena was last year but summoned enough to get themselves promoted. A nice string of victories and solid results to start the season provided a feel-good story, but many still thought that the team wopuld come crashing back to mid-table earth. Well, that hasn't happened and as it stands, they are four points clear of fourth place Levante. The squad appears to be grounded as evidenced by defender Txiki's recent comments that the players aren't talking about promotion. That's probably a lie but come spring, surely the fans will be reminding the players about it whereveer they go and it will be interesting to see how they hold up under the pressure, and that excludes the likes of Levante and Numancia nipping at their heels.

Villarreal B - It was only last year that Sevilla B was also in the Segunda Dibision making a case that there should be a 'Liga de Filiales' or a reserve league. You couldn't have blamed people for thinking that. Sevilla B were dreadful and managed only two wins during the whole season. Villarreal B came strutting into El Infierno this year fresh off of the Segunda B. But like Cartagena, Villarreal B has done nothing to embarrass themselves while playing in El Infierno. In fact, their play has inspired, so much so that the bosses at the parent club axed Ernesto Valverde and tasked Villarreal B Juan Carlos Garrido with the duties of leading the senior Yellow Submarine back to the top 5 in La Liga. Paco Herrera now has the reins of the team that sits 5th and is showing everyone in Spain who may have the best 'cantera' in the cuntry.

Lo peor:

Castellon - Oh dear, on these pages just last year we were lauding the exploits of Castellon who took down German club Schalke 04 in a mid-winter friendly. Castellon finished mid-table last year and had moments of glory where promotion was close. But this year's campaign started with very few wins and even more of concern, with very few goals. But it wasn't all terrible as just two weeks ago Castellon shocked Esteban Vigo's Hercules in Alicante 1-2. Whomever bet on the visitors made a killing on this shocking upset. But outside of that, Castellon have scored just 21 goals while giving up a swiss-cheese like 35. They are the 'colista' with 18 points and it is safe to say that there is no hope at staying alive...

On to this week's Quiniela!

La Quiniela - Jornada 24

Hércules - Villarreal B 1
R. Sociedad - Gimnástic 1
Huesca - Murcia 1
Numancia - Las Palmas X
Salamanca - Elche X
Levante - Celta 1
Córdoba - Cádiz 2
Recreativo - Betis 2
Albacete - Castellón 1
Cartagena - Real Unión 1
Rayo - Girona 1


1. Hércules - 44
2. R. Sociedad - 44
3. Cartagena - 40
4. Levante - 36
5. Villarreal B - 36
6. Numancia - 36
7. Gimnástic - 35
8. Betis - 34
9. Rayo - 31
10. Elche - 31
11. Salamanca - 30
12. Córdoba - 29
13. Las Palmas - 28
14. Recreativo - 28
15. Huesca - 26
16. Celta - 26
17. Albacete - 26
18. Cádiz - 24
19. Murcia - 23
20. Girona - 23
21. Real Unión - 21
22. Castellón - 18

Friday, January 22, 2010

Celta a lo mas grande?

It was Copa del Rey time again this week in Spain but with both Madrid and Barcelona out of the tournament, the remaining games were not getting nearly the attention they deserved, which is a shame.

The name of Alcorcon will forever be known in the memories of futbol fans everywhere for their widely publicized elimination of Madrid earlier in the tournament which came in humiliating fashion. But another squad has emerged after knocking off two Primera Division teams and now stands on the cusp of beating a third. Our very own Celta de Vigo from El Infierno.

A victory over Tenerife raised only a few eyebrows considering the islanders were in El Infierno as recently as last year. But then next came Villarreal where a 1-1 in the first leg favored the Primera Division side in the return leg at El Madrigal, but the hosts played conservatively and paid dearly for it when they got whistled for a PK in the final minutes which Celta converted suddenly putting the Gallegos in the quarterfinals.

Atletico were coming off their own high with a dramatic comeback win over Recreativo after losing the first leg 0-3 but managing to get the necessary result at home to advance. The momentum that the Colchineros have shown in recent weeks also suggested that Atleti would be favored to win at the Calderon in Thursday's first leg but Celta came out of the locker rooms with a purpose and got a 2nd minute goal from Trashorras, thus setting a tone for the entire match.

Atleti got an equalizer but were still lucky to emerge with just a tie as Celta played arguably their finest match of the season, prompting Quique, the Atleti coach to say that it was a match that made him suffer until the end.

So here is Celta who next week have an opportunity to book a ticket to the semifinals of the Copa del Rey. They are the only non-first division team left in the tournament, and the remaining rivals frankly are all beatable. Only the Sevilla side which all but ended Depor's chances with a 0-3 victory at the Riazor stands to be a 'giant' which may difficult to overcome, but with Racing, Osasuna, Mallorca and Getafe in the mix, it is not far fetched for any 'Vigues' to dream about playing in the final on May 26th.

Oddly enough, Celta could become one of those rarities of second division team running the table and winning the domestic Cup competition, thus securing a Europa League berth. Heck, if Celta's league form flounders, but their Cup run ends in a run, they could be playing next season in the Segunda B and in the Europa League. A third division team in European competition? Now that would be a first.

La Quiniela - Jornada 21

Albacete - Cartagena 2
Recreativo - Rayo X
Hércules - Real Unión 1
Córdoba - Castellón 1
Levante - Betis 2
Salamanca - Villarreal B X
Numancia - Cádiz X
Huesca - Celta X
R. Sociedad - Elche 1
Gimnástic - Las Palmas X
Murcia - Girona 2


1. R. Sociedad - 42
2. Hércules - 40
3. Cartagena - 33
4. Numancia - 32
5. Betis - 30
6. Villarreal B - 30
7. Rayo* - 29
8. Gimnástic - 29
9. Salamanca - 28
10. Levante - 27
11. Elche - 27
12. Córdoba* - 27
13. Las Palmas - 26
14. Albacete - 24
15. Huesca - 23
16. Celta - 23
17. Recreativo - 23
18. Girona - 22
19. Cádiz - 20
20. Murcia - 18
21. Real Unión - 17
22. Castellón - 13