ESPANYOL 1-2 VALENCIA 8.2.2014

After taking in a Tercera Division game at lunchtime, by the evening, it was time for some La Liga action, as Espanyol took on Valencia.

The last time I went to Barcelona, I went to a match at the Nou Camp and a tour of Espanyol’s ground. I promised myself if I ever went to Barcelona again, I would do it the other way around. So, when I went to Barcelona recently, I kept my promise, taking in Espanyol’s match against Valencia.

This was a good choice of match for me, as both clubs are on the UEFA 101 Club list.

Getting a ticket for this match was easy, purchasing from a tourist office in the city on the Thursday beforehand. The number of empty seats in the stadium suggests I could have just turned up on the day with no problems.

For those who have watched a match at the Power8 stadium, I was along the side of the pitch, where the TV cameras were situated.

One new addition to the stadium since I last visit was a statue of Dani Jarque, an Espanyol player who died during the summer of 2009, soon after captaining the club in their opening game at the ground.

The quality of attacking was poor, both teams looked short of ideas going forward. Both team’s defending wasn’t that impressive either, gifting chances which weren’t taken.

Espanyol’s best moment came when Felipe Caicedo burst through but fired straight at the keeper.

It was a game that had the look of a 0-0 draw about it, until Pablo Piatti got a touch onto a cross to put Valencia 1-0 up. The Valencia fans in the corner of that goal celebrated, as did pockets of fans sat in the home end.

It looked as though Valencia were going to smother the game and hold on for a 1-0 win. Espanyol had one big attacking moment when Christian Stuani looked certain to score, until a Valencia defender managed to get a block on the line.

Dani Parejo’s free-kick gave Valencia a 2-0 lead, which sparked an exodus of home fans.

Those that left missed an immediate response, when Sergio Garcia took advantage of some poor defending to fire home.

Espanyol now had hope, and the game became end to end, with both teams immediately counter-attacking every time they won the ball. As injury time approached, the game got niggly with players squaring up to each other.

Valencia were able to hang on, and climb into 4th, as they aim to qualify for the Champions League.

Espanyol can’t qualify through the league, but they can still reach Europe, as they have a Copa Del Rey Semi-Final against Athletic Bilbao to look forward to.

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PHOTO DIARY OF A FOOTBALL SEASON : FEBRUARY

Like in December/January, I attended a match at a stadium for the first time. A lot more grand than Suffolk Road and Solitude, but Nou Camp and Aviva Stadium.

In February, I also visited Estadio El Prat, home of La Liga side Espanyol.

I visited Barcelona for a weekend in February and absolutely loved it. I’d booked it primarily for a break, but did keep an eye on the football fixtures, and managed to get a ticket for Barcelona v Atletico Madrid on my arrival.

If I do visit Barcelona again, i’d like to do it the other way around, and go to an Espanyol match, and do the tour of the Nou Camp.

Nou Camp was great, a fantastic fixture of both modern and old features.

A few days later, I visited Aviva Stadium in Dublin for the Northern Ireland v Scotland match.

The match, as a 3-0 defeat suggests, was dreadful, and it didn’t help being placed in awful seats with people standing at the side of the pitch blocking your view.

Thankfully, I managed to make use of some spare seats and managed to get some decent photos.

Barcelona

Northern Ireland v Scotland

Linfield v Dunmurry Rec

Glenavon v Linfield

I HAD THIS PERFECT DREAM ……

As work colleagues and Twitter followers will have been long aware, I was in Barcelona the past weekend on a short break.

Last year, I took a short break over the first weekend in February in Manchester, and wanted to do the same this year, as something exciting to look forward to over the winter months.

I decided that I didn’t want to go to mainland UK, but instead to go to mainland Europe, and then I had the idea of going somewhere with a top class football team, and try to get to a match, but not to make a football match the focal point of the trip.

I narrowed the options down to Munich and Barcelona, before eventually settling on Barcelona, to be in the city for a few days around the time they play Atletico Madrid.

The airline I booked with cancelled their flights from Belfast during the winter months, but did give me the option of changing my departure of Dublin, which I took, despite the fact I would leaving Belfast in the wee small hours ahead of an early morning flight.

Having done some prior research, I headed to the Tourist Information Office in the airport to get a ticket for the match, which was one less thing to worry about, as I set about getting checked in.

As soon as I checked in and left my bags in the room, I set about exploring the city, blindly, with no tourist maps.

I find that the best way to get lost in a city is to, erm, get lost in a city.

What struck me most was how much love there is for Street Art in Barcelona. Where there was free wallspace, or a shutter, there would be something drawn or spraypainted on to it.

Regular readers will know how much I love Street Art.

I checked out the Marina on the Thursday. Beautiful place and very photographable, or just good if you want to laze about and watch the world pass by.

I managed to find the Nou Camp by fluke, partly because I got the wrong metro stop to the one I was staying at.

Despite it being teatime on a Thursday and a non-matchday, it was rammed with tourists and people just wanting to see one of the world’s most iconic football stadiums.

After a double-digit sleep on Thursday night, I headed to Estadi Cornella-El Prat, home of the city’s other La Liga side Espanyol, where I got a guided tour of the stadium, taking in the stands, press room and changing rooms, where a symbolic space is left for former player Dani Jarque, who died in 2009.

A memorial of shirts and flowers is place in one of the stands, and plans are in place to place the shirt Andres Iniesta wore after scoring in the 2010 World Cup Final, and he subsequently donated to the club.

The remainder of Friday, and early on Saturday was spent exploring the lively Las Ramblas area of the city centre, full of life and activity.

At about 5pm on the Saturday, I decided to head over to Nou Camp for the game between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, which kicked-off at 10pm local time.

There was me thinking that Linfield playing Setanta Cup matches at 5.30pm on a Saturday was odd.

I headed into the stadium and checked out my seat, three rows back in the second tier, unbelievable. It was great for amateur photography of portrait shots, rather than actual match action.

Barcelona won the match 3-0 with a hat-trick from Lionel Messi. Stating the obvious, but he is rather good. He was playing for fun at times, showing off as if was having a kickabout in the street.

Sunday was a lazy day, mostly spent watching football on TV and lazing at the marina before heading home on the Monday morning.

An excellent weekend well spent, and was well worth having as February’s STLFTEM.

Farewell Barcelona. If God is willing, we will meet again ……….. someday.

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