Six weeks after an emotional inauguration and victory over Liverpool, Espanyol fans are already calling their new home "the cathedral of Cornella".
Real crash Cornella party
BARCELONA // Six weeks after an emotional inauguration and victory over Liverpool, Espanyol fans are already calling their new home "the cathedral of Cornella". The 41,000 seater venue was full to capacity for its first competitive game on Saturday night. Following the death last month of their captain Dani Jarque from a heart attack, Espanyol's Argentinian coach Mauricio Pochettino has been trying to deal with an outpouring of emotion and ready a team for the season.
After selling an impressive 35,000 season tickets, Cornella was always going to be full for the opening game. Fans wanted to pay their respects and with Real Madrid as visitors, the box office appeal only grew. Of the remaining tickets, the cheapest behind goal cost ?90 (Dh482) - and that in a country suffering from the worst recession in Western Europe. Espanyol's players appeared to take energy from the pre-match Jarque tributes as they began with an industry which troubled Real.
The sight of Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul on the bench encouraged them further, with Real's Chilean coach Manual Pellegrini preferring Gonzalo Higuain and Esteban Granero in attack. His charges nervously survived Espanyol's opening attacks and first half dominance, before gradually asserting their authority. Emotion, passion and determination can all be admirable and effective traits, but they can be eclipsed by vastly superior talent.
Like a heavyweight boxer connecting for the first time in a bout, a powerful Marcelo drive rocked Espanyol in the 38th minute. Twenty seconds later, the black shirts of Real were ahead when Kaka combined with Granero to beat two defenders. Granero gave Kameni no chance in the home goal. Ronaldo was introduced to a cacophony of boos as he replaced the ineffective Karim Benzema after 65 minutes. He is used to ignoring such abuse and within a minute had struck a free-kick which deflected towards the goal.
It was another of Real's expensive summer signings who stylishly set up the second in the 77th minute. Kaka was the creator in the majority of Real's best moves and weaved deep into the box before pulling the ball back for Guti to drill a shot through the Espanyol defence. As the 1,500 travelling Real fans sang "Viva Espana", the cathedral of Cornella began to empty with five minutes left. The fans may be faithful, but they were not expecting a miracle.
Whether it was realism or pessimism which prompted their departure, it was justified as Ronaldo made it 3-0 in the final minute. The winger scored his second Real goal in as many games, rolling the ball through the legs of Kameni after a pass from Guti found him in space on the right. Champions Barcelona also made it two wins from two after recording a 2-0 away victory at a Getafe side who dominated the first half and twice hit the post through Albin and Soldado.
Substitute Lionel Messi, who had a dreadful international week with two defeats for Argentina, changed the game after his 57th minute introduction and Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Barca ahead seven minutes later. The Swede created the second for Messi in the 79th minute, controlling a cross on his chest before chipping the ball to Messi who headed in. "The first game back after an international break can be difficult but after a slow start we were very composed in the second half," said the coach Pep Guardiola.
Barca gave a debut to central defender Dmytro Chyrgynsky who was "perfect" according to his coach and welcomed Andres Iniesta back from injury - just in time for Wednesday's Champions League game against Inter Milan. "It's very difficult to break Barca's rhythm," added Getafe coach and former Real Madrid star Michel. "And when you see Messi and Iniesta on the bench, you always know that they have other solutions. We played well and with a high level of intensity, but players like that were the difference."