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Levante go wild after breathless
Keep calm,” Levante’s manager, Paco López, said but he knew better than anyone that it was a bit late for that. Maybe tomorrow. For now, Sunday lunchtime in the Valencian sunshine, it was time to enjoy it, like he’d said from the start. His players had thrown shirts into the crowd and turned the pitch into a mosh pit, pushing and pogoing, dancing round a circle, emotion escaping as they embraced and 24,001 red-and-blue flags waved: 24,000 around the ground and one high above them all.
Along the east stand, the division’s team’s flags fly in league order, arranged every Monday by Raimon, the groundsman with the chaotic mini-museum below the other stand. Levante’s is 17 in; it shouldn’t slide right now. Barcelona, Atlético, Valencia and Madrid will join them up there again next season.
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not all over, hence the call for calm, but nearly. They were celebrating being alive, survival all but secured. A 2-1 victory over Las Palmas means Levante will almost certainly be back; Deportivo La Coruña, Las Palmas, and Málaga almost certainly won’t be. With seven games left, they’re eight, 10 and 14 points adrift respectively. Between them, they’ve had nine goalkeepers, nine coaches, 60 defeats, and virtually no discernible plan. Now they have virtually no chance, either – almost gone already, slipping into segunda without much of a fight. “Until the calculator says otherwise, we have to believe,” said the Las Palmas manager Paco Jémez.
In the Las Palmas dressing room, no one was saying anything much. “There are people crying in there, heads down, sad, aware of the consequences of this; they know what this means. We’re not that clever but we’re not stupid either,” Jémez said. “There are 21 points left, more than enough for anyone to be saved or for anyone to sink and football can always surprise you. Is it hard? Fuck, yes: it’s very, very, very hard, and every day it’s harder, but we have to believe and we have to defend our professional dignity. We have no reason to be ashamed; we are who we are, our abilities are what they are. We
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have to be realistic too.”
Realism says forget it. Las Palmas need at least four wins now when they have won just once in 10. Málaga have won just once
in 17, Deportivo the same – and that was on Friday night, a moment’s hope swiftly lost. Lucas Pérez said he was going to leave his bedroom for the first time in months after their first win since December, a 3-2 victory over Málaga; by Sunday lunchtime he must have felt like locking himself away again. They all must have. This was the one Las Palmas had to win most – for all of them. Levante were the cliff-face they all clung to, but the grip has slipped now, a solitary finger hooked over the edge and buckling, Levante treading on it.
A week ago, Jémez had said that if Las Palmas did not win at Levante they could practically call themselves a second division team. This was huge. The Ciutat de València was packed. “More than words,” ran the slogan. Super Deporte called it a final and, for once, they weren’t so far off. “This match is no joke,” said
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Marca. Flags were handed out, fans gathering hours before kick-off, the federation of supporters’ clubs calling it “vital”. Inside, it was nosier than ever before. “It’s not just another game,” López had said the previous day.
It was only his fourth game in charge and there was hope now. When López took over, Levante had gone 14 games without victory. They had won six of their first 12 back in the top flight but not once since, their last victory coming at Las Palmas in November, and they were slipping towards the relegation zone. Those below watched, relieved; at Levante, they watched, horrified.
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