Friday should have been an evening of jubilation for Atletico Madrid—and perhaps it still will be for their players and fans.
Atletico triumphed over heavily favored rival Real Madrid, 2-1, in extra time to capture the 2013 Copa del Rey title. As SportsCenter's Twitter feed pointed out, this was the club's first triumph in the hallowed Spanish tournament in 17 years:
Atletico Madrid wins their 1st #CopaDelRey title in SEVENTEEN years! Miranda scores in extra time as Atletico beats Real Madrid, 2-1.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 17, 2013
That’s all well and good and a nice story. For most, though, Friday's Copa del Rey final will forever be remembered as the day all hell broke loose at the Bernabeu.
The overarching focus will be on what happened in the match's waning minutes, and we'll get there. But the devolution of this match into an episode of Maury began with the banishment of Madrid boss Jose Mourinho in the 75th minute.
The departing manager, who was managing in his final Copa del Rey match with Real Madrid after announcing his departure for Chelsea, according to the Mirror, loudly protested an official's call as things started going awry for his club. Undeterred by the arrival of Clos Gomez to calm him down and obviously flush with anger, Mourinho was shown a red card as those at the Bernabeu looked on in shock.
After the match, Mourinho was obviously still feeling frustrated with the way he’s departing Madrid.
"This was the worst season of my career," Mourinho told the BBC.
Things only got worse from there—and that’s putting it mildly. As the match went into extra time and Atletico seemed to be locking themselves into a lead, things got increasingly hostile at the Bernabeu. The atmosphere was stifling, as tensions boiled both from Real players and fans alike.
The tensions finally hit their apex in the 114th minute.
Real star Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the world’s two best players, started the festivities after purposefully trying to wheel-kick Atletico’s Gabi in the face. It’s unclear whether Ronaldo actually connected or not, but Gabi sure sold it like he did. The Atletico star went crumbling to the ground like a gunshot victim, and Ronaldo was shown a straight red card.
From there, bedlam broke loose. Players and coaches from both sides began fighting on the side of the field, and there were punches thrown. Seeing the players losing control of their emotions, fans at the Bernabeu seemingly felt just fine with doing the same and began tossing items onto the field.
It was an hour stretch that encompassed almost everything that's heinous about sports culture. It had unruly fans hurling objects at players and referees—endangering those who they paid to see, including Atletico's Thibaut Courtois, who was hit hard by a projectile.
It had stars acting like petulant children and playing beyond the confines of what anyone would call "acceptable" dirty play. There were 15 cards shown to players during the match, as both sides finished with 10 men on the field. And it even had flopping, if you are one of those who subscribe to the theory that Gabi faked being hit.
It was impossible to watch that match and come away with a positive feeling as an objective observer.
And, honestly, that's too bad. Because the extracurricular activities—if we can so kindly call them that—will undoubtedly overshadow what was a historic victory for Atletico. The ugly stepchild to golden boy Real Madrid, Atletico emerged victorious and ended a reign of being pulverized by their crosstown rivals. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Atletico’s triumph was the first time they beat Real since the Y2K scare:
This is the 1st time Atlético Madrid has beaten Real Madrid since 1999— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 17, 2013
To put that in perspective, Apple was best known for its computers the last time Atletico beat Real. This was the equivalent of the Clippers beating the Lakers in a Western Conference final or similar to the feeling Mets fans would have had if their team would have pulled out the 2000 World Series.
Atletico’s win even followed a pattern most frequently used in Disney movies.
There was a hero. Joao Miranda, he of exactly three goals in 43 starts this season prior to Friday’s action, scored the game-winning goal in the 98th minute.
The 28-year-old defender is a very good player and was in fine form versus Real, but out of an 11-man roster, he wouldn’t crack the top-five on anyone’s most-likely heroes list.
There was unrepentant misfortune for Real. Los Blancos seemed to hit the woodwork on every single scoring opportunity, a Ronaldo goal in the 14th minute being their only hero and a never-ending barrage of misfortune for the favored club. Courtois, before being hit on the head, stood on it as he played one of the best games of his career—an amazing save on a Mesut Ozil effort in extra time being the most astounding.
How will you remember this year's Copa Del Rey final?
Very little of that will be remembered in the interim. Instead, we’ll have visions of Mourinho being sent off the pitch in his last match of an epic three-year run in Madrid. We’ll see arguably the world’s best player, Ronaldo, pull the most dastardly trick of his entire career. And we’ll have the ensuing brawl, which evoked the absolute worst from those in attendance.
Maybe this will all fade eventually, but for now it all feels too raw, too dirty to appreciate what should have been a great moment.
La Liga’s version of the Mets may have beaten its version of the Yankees, but it's a damn shame they had to tear apart the subway along the way.