Livescore Thursday, April 25
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A Clasico is always a Clasico, no matter the circumstances. Clashes between Real Madrid and Barcelona have long attracted the most attention because of the fixture’s unique history, with each side desperate to get one over their eternal rivals.

Sunday night was no different — except it involved Madrid and Barca’s ‘B’ teams and took place at Real’s Valdebebas training ground rather than the Santiago Bernabeu. Real Madrid Castilla, the club’s reserve team managed by legendary striker Raul, were looking to overturn a 4-2 deficit against Barcelona Atletic (formerly Barca B) in the second leg of their third division play-off semi-final.

The way the Primera RFEF — the Spanish third tier — is structured means Castilla and Barca Atletic rarely play each other, much less in a game of this importance. That made this even more special, giving the next generation of players on both sides the chance to experience Spain’s biggest rivalry.

That was reflected in the attendance, with more than 5,000 fans packing themselves into the 5,800-capacity Alfredo Di Stefano stadium at Madrid’s training complex. It looked like a mini-Bernabeu before kick-off, with the loudspeakers playing Real’s 2002 centenary anthem, sung by Placido Domingo. Some of the chants were directly lifted from Madrid’s iconic ground — such as the seventh-minute chorus for their legendary winger Juanito, who died tragically young, and the more pointed “Corruption in the federation!” aimed at the Spanish FA.

“It was a dream to see the Di Stefano full, I’ve been there for many years and it’s complicated,” Raul said after the game. “I think that today we could have had 3,000 or 4,000 more spectators, we ran out of tickets.”

Where usually there would be a few dozen journalists in the press area, there were now around 100. President Florentino Perez took up his place in the directors box, with the first team’s assistant coach Davide Ancelotti, the goalkeeping coach Luis Llopis and Madrid’s latest signing from Rayo Vallecano, Fran Garcia — the left-back who came through the youth ranks here — also in attendance. Zinedine Zidane’s son Theo, who plays as a midfielder for Castilla but who wasn’t called up, watched on a few metres away from where The Athletic was sat.

The two men who led out their teams know a thing or two about Clasicos. Raul became a Madrid icon during his 16-year career with Los Blancos, while Barca Atletic boss and legendary Mexico defender Rafael Marquez made more than 200 appearances for the Catalan side from 2003-10.

And there were signs of both clubs’ distinctive playing styles throughout. Barca Atletic tried to impose themselves with intricate, tiki-taka football; Castilla responded with physicality and intensity.

Raul’s side had been confident they could produce a comeback the likes of which Madrid have become famous for, with one senior source from the academy — who, like the others cited in this article, preferred to remain anonymous to protect relationships — telling The Athletic after the first leg: “We’re going to get them at home.”

They would be proven right. Alvaro Martin, a midfielder whose place had been in doubt last summer, stood out. In the 21st minute, he produced a fine cross for Carlos Dotor, who put Castilla ahead with a looping header. Dotor, the Castilla captain, celebrated wildly, repeatedly kissing the badge on his shirt.

Raul then made a few changes, which paid off in spectacular fashion. Striker Iker Bravo came on in the 73rd minute — five minutes later, he headed Castilla level on aggregate after a cross from fellow substitute Gonzalo Garcia.

Bravo came through Barca’s youth system before leaving for Bayer Leverkusen and joining Castilla on loan last summer, but he enjoyed his celebration against his former club. He jumped over the advertising hoardings to hug someone in the stands, while his team-mate Peter Gonzalez embraced a group of supporters.

This was vindication for the 18-year-old Bravo, around whom there had been serious doubts because of his poor performances and lack of professionalism throughout the season. Since then, the board have reportedly decided to extend his loan from Leverkusen for a further season with an option to buy.

Then a clumsy challenge from former Manchester City academy defender Alpha Dionkou resulted in a 95th-minute penalty for Castilla. Sergio Arribas, who had been out through injury since mid-May, stepped up and slotted home.

If the Di Stefano had been lively at 2-0, 3-0 tipped it over the edge. The entire Castilla squad raced to the corner flag to celebrate with Arribas, even causing a fence separating the players from the fans to fall down.

Only Raul kept his head, staying perfectly still on the touchline amid the chaos. The Castilla boss had to urge Bravo to concentrate until the end, with the striker seemingly more interested in celebrating than seeing out the game on several occasions.

He could relax when the final whistle blew, unleashing more celebrations in the stands and on the pitch. Dotor was hoisted on the shoulders of Lucas Canizares, the goalkeeper who is the son of the former Spain international Santiago, and sang the Madrid anthem “How can I not love you?” through a megaphone. Bravo was seen banging a drum while defender Pablo Bravo lifted a chair in the air, imitating David Alaba during last season’s Champions League run.

Raul was serenaded by the crowd and the injured goalkeeper Mario de Luis was carried in the coaching staff’s arms. Afterwards, the Castilla manager brought the squad back together in the centre of the pitch in a show of collective unity.

“I said that I was very happy with them but that it wasn’t over, that we had to go on,” Raul said. “That’s why I brought everyone together — players and also coaching staff.”

Raul started the press conference by excusing himself for having lost his voice and then addressed rumours that Perez has doubts over him and that he could leave Madrid.

“I would love to continue and I think that’s what’s going to happen,” he said. “Raul is Real Madrid, it’s where I feel good, where I’m happy and where I think I make people happy.”

Multiple sources close to Raul have told The Athletic that the Castilla coach’s priority is to stay at the club, as he waits for his chance with the first team. The players in his squad also recognise this.

Moments after the press conference, the club published photos on their official social media channels of Perez congratulating Raul and the squad.

Now the legendary Real forward will turn his focus to the play-off final against Eldense (with the first leg taking place this Saturday and the second leg on Sunday, June 25) — and a return to the second division for the first time since 2012.

(Top photo: Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)



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