Flamenco beat is back in Andalusia

BY foxsports • January 19, 2012

Seville is famous for its vibrant night clubs where the tapping on the stage of flamenco ballerinas mixes with the chords of flamboyant guitars and the percussion of zesty North African drums.

On Saturday, however, the two teams that define this Andalusian city in the sporting world, Real Betis and Sevilla, will meet on a bigger stage for the first time in almost three years.

For Betis the match will be the perfect setting to show their home fans, and those of their rivals, that they can match any team in La Liga.

Real Betis supporters have been to hell and back over the past few years. After a number of seasons fighting off relegation, the Andalusian club eventually went down on goal difference in the 2008-9 campaign, while their arch rival Sevilla finished third and qualified for the Champions League.

A couple of years later, following a number of setbacks on and off the pitch, Betis emerged as champion of the Liga Adelante. To a considerable extent this success was due to the significant changes that saw the club emerge from a turbulent time financially and the appointment of a new manager.

Los Beticos had already been in turmoil even before they were relegated. In 2006 massive fan demonstrations forced out the club’s main shareholder since 1992, Manuel Ruiz de Lopera.

Ruiz de Lopera's Betis had some good years, notably winning the Copa del Rey in 2005 and qualifying for the Champions League for first time that same year. Nevertheless, a string of bad signings and results, and what the fans considered to be an archaic style of management, led to fan protests that forced De Lopera to sell his shares to businessman Luis Oliver. The sale proved to be fraudulent and was eventually deemed illegal, which led to a jail sentence and a large fine for Ruiz de Lopera.

Ruben Castro, in action against Barcelona's Dani Alves, was instrumental in Real Betis' promotion. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

When in the summer of 2010 former Betis striker Pepe Mel was hired to return Betis to La Liga, the fortunes of the club began to change for the better. Jorge Molina, Achile Emana and Ruben Castro excelled throughout the season, scoring almost 100 goals between them which helped propel the club into the first division.

Although the club lost one of its talismen in the summer when Emana left for Al-Hilal FC, a string of quality signings meant that the new Betis was more than ready for their return season to the top flight. Roque Santa Cruz was brought in on loan from Manchester City, while Antonio Amaya, Jefferson Montero and Mario Alvarez also arrived to strengthen the side.

Pepe Mel’s Betis started the season better than most. After four weeks they were in second place, and during weeks five and six they were actually sitting at the top of the table. However, the high was not to last, and several defeats in a row pulled the side down to the seventeenth place.

But, since that slip they have rediscovered their form. Before last Sunday’s gallant defeat against Barcelona they had won three games on the trot. Last Sunday they went to the Camp Nou and put on a show against the mighty cules, showing they are no pushovers.

Mario Alvarez receives his marching orders at Camp Nou. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Two goals down after 12 minutes, they did not give up and sent wave after wave of counterattacks against Victor Valdes’ goal. A few minutes into the second half they had equalized through Castro and Santa Cruz, and it took a red card – the harshest you will see all season - shown to Mario Alvarez to finally tilt the balance in favor of the Catalan side.

After the match Barca’s maestro Xavi was quick to stress the quality of the Andalusians. He told reporters that “Betis played a great game” and emphasized how dangerous they were. "They have a great team and they can hurt you, as in fact they did to us today," he said.

Now Betis will hope to replicate their performance at the Camp Nou against their bitter rivals Sevilla, who are only four places and three points above them on the table.

A Betis win would put them level on points with their neighbor, and although Betis have had no problem finding the back of the net of late - not even in the Camp Nou - Sevilla are suffering from a drought in front of goal. Even the return of prodigal son Jose Antonio Reyes has failed to ignite the Nervionenses.

Betis’ offense may be healthy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have problems of their own. Two of their main defenders are out of the match, Amaya through injury and Mario through suspension. Pepe Mel has been desperately searching for cover, but so far his attempts to sign Ricardo Rocha from Valencia and Michael Ciani from Bordeaux have failed. Unless he has a trick up his sleeve he will have to do with back-up players from within Betis' ranks to shore up their defense on Saturday night.

Ultimately, the Sevillian derby at Benito Villamarin should be an entertaining affair. Sevilla will be desperately trying to put an end to their sluggish run, while Betis will keep taking it, as Pepe Mel has repeatedly put it, “one game at a time”.

Betis may have less cash to splash than their traditionally more successful neighbors, but they are ready to take centre stage once more. If Sevilla aren't careful they may get swept away by the rhythm of a new flamenco beat.


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