MADRID – More than 22 years after its Feb. 19, 1997, win over Real Madrid, Adrian Embarba, on a penalty kick, took Rayo Vallencano to another victory over the capital squad on Sunday, garnering three vital ranking points, although his team is still below the relegation level just three weeks before the end of Spain’s La Liga season, an interval during which Real has nothing on the line and looks all but certain to wind up in third place.
In the run-up to the match, Rayo coach Paco Jemez warned that Real was better than his team on all fronts except one: “the need” to win. Specifically for that reason, Rayo took the pitch with something of an advantage and right from the start played a very high-energy game, dominating the rhythm of the match.
With French striker Karim Benzema out on the injury list, Zinedine Zidane put Mariano Diaz on the attack and surprised all concerned by placing Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois in the net, benching Keylor Navas.
Real was the first to get set up for a shot on goal by Marcelo, although it was cleared by Alberto, who proved to be one of Rayo’s most outstanding players in a contest that was frenetic and full of action from start to finish.
Rayo had the best chances and plays in the first half, with Jose Angel Pozo – the team’s most imaginative player – being instrumental in just about all of them, although Michel and Paco Jemez had key parts in the action as well.
At the 22nd minute mark, and after resorting to the VAR, referee Gonzalez Fuertes whistled a penalty after a foul by Vallejo on Javi Guerra. Embarba fired the penalty kick from 11 meters past Courtois to get on the board.
Rayo learned from its errors throughout the match, showing no mercy to Real Madrid and continuing to set the pace.
Gareth Bale seemed to be somewhat erratic on the pitch on Sunday and was not able to finish, although there were a few occasions where he should have gotten the team on the board.
After the second half got under way, Rayo was on the hunt and probing for a second tally, but Bale hiked the intensity with a nice shot that Alberto managed to grab in the 68th minute, a situation that seemed to increase the visitors’ nervousness that the game might be devolving into a series of quick back and forth plays that would not be to its benefit.
The six minutes of injury time was a period of nailbiting for Rayo – but also for Real – as the former tried to preserve its lead and the latter tried desperately for the tying tally that never came.
With the win, Rayo is still hovering six points below the relegation threshold at 31 points, while Real Madrid, with 65, is nine points in back of second-place Atletico Madrid.
The match was played at Madrid’s Vallecas Stadium before some 13,300 fans.