So the opening weekend in Spain's Primera Division wasn't so bad after all. First of all all the matches went ahead, which was a real concern just two weeks earlier. As well as games, there were goals, and lots of them: 29 in total, including eight in one game. The weekend also saw the youngest ever goalscorer in the league's history and the return of one of its best loved goalscorers. Finally, there was Rayo Vallecano, who, in one way or another, rarely fail to disappoint.
The season began on Saturday with newly promoted Celta Vigo hosting disaster-stricken Málaga. Málaga, most will know, suffered a summer of uncertainty which saw their billionaire owner Abdullah Al-Thani suddenly refuse to spend a penny on the club, even to pay players' wages from the previous season. Three key players - Santi Cazorla, Joris Mathijsen and Solomon Rondón - all left promptly. But for every big player that leaves a club, a lesser-known one gets a chance. This time the opportunity fell to 16-year-old Fabrice Olinga, who left his native Cameroon when he was 12 and moved to Mallorca to play football, his expenses paid for by the Samuel Eto'o Foundation.
When coach Manuel Pellegrini realised half his squad wanted to leave the club this summer, he asked Olinga, who still had not played for Málaga's B team, to train with the first team. Team-mate Eliseu remarked during a training session how the youngster reminded him of Et'oo, which delighted Olinga, who idolises the ex-Barcelona striker. Olinga must have impressed during those sessions, because with half an hour to go against Celta and the game goalless, Pellegrini threw him on up front. With five minutes left of the game Olinga converted a cross by Diego Bounanotte to score the winner. It was not the prettiest of goals but it was a beautiful moment as the teenager, still not old enough to drive a car or buy a bottle of beer, celebrated becoming the youngest ever player to score in the Spanish top flight. It was also a crucial goal for his team, who desperately needed their spirits lifted.
On Sunday Real Madrid could only draw 1-1 with Valencia in the sweltering heat of the capital. Even though Valencia are Spain's third best team, a draw was still a surprising result given the two clubs finished season 2011/12 41 points apart. A few hours north of the Santiago Bernabéu, meanwhile, there was a frantic game going on in Bilbao. Real Betis stormed into a three goal lead in the first half but Athletic came back with three goals in quick succession in the second. No sooner had Marcelo Bielsa's side stopped celebrating their equaliser than Betis had regained the lead, before adding a fifth.
Barcelona later produced the first spanking of the season, taking care of Real Sociedad 5-1. Lionel Messi got a customary double but the highlight of the game was seeing David Villa return to football eight months after breaking his leg. There will be few Spanish football fans, perhaps even Madridistas, who did not smile when 'El Guaje' , Spain's leading goalscorer of all time, scored score Barcelona's fifth goal and celebrated by revealing a t-shirt bearing a picture of his family and the words "It would have been impossible without you."
On Monday night this blog attended Rayo Vallecano vs Granada, a repeat of the last game of 2011/12, when both sides avoided relegation after Rayo scored an injury time winner. History repeated itself on this occasion, with Roberto Trashorras striking a free-kick with perfection into the top corner with barely the last kick of the game. The goal was so late that the stadium announcer was still celebrating it after the final whistle had blown.
Despite Trashorras's winner being a contender for goal of the weekend, the best memorable thing about the game were banners displayed by Rayo fans. The club's outspoken Bukaneros Ultras decided to take a stand against the league's bizarre scheduling of matches, and, like when they were in the Segunda División and refused to go to games on Fridays, the Bukaneros boycotted the Granada game because it was played on a Monday. The main section behind one of the goals where the Bukaneros usually congregate was empty, a contrast to the usual sight of throngs of men sporting mullets and smoking cannabis. Instead, there were two large banners hung above the empty seats. One read: "Mondays are for everything - working, looking for work, studying or recovering from hangovers. Everything except football," while the other bore the legend: "If football belongs to Javier Tebas (the league's vice president responsible for the 23:00 kick offs), then let his whore mother cheer on the players."
Other banners read "No to football on Mondays" while another said "We demand respectable kick-off times". Although representatives from 13 La Liga clubs denounced the baffling kick-off times and scheduling, only Rayo's fans showed their opposition to the move over the weekend. Fans of La Liga should be glad Rayo managed to stay up last season, no matter how fortunate they were. The league is a much more interesting place for them being around.
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