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Mirandés: La Liga’s worst nightmare

Who is top scorer in Spain’s Copa del Rey this season? Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 40 league goals last season? No. How about Lionel Messi? Try again. Maybe Roberto Soldado, the most prolific Spanish striker this term? No, not him either.

Step forward Pablo Infante, the balding 31-year-old bank clerk who in his spare time likes to score goals and torment La Liga defences. Infante (pictured) has scored seven goals in the competition so far and last week lead his team, Segunda B outfit Mirandes, to a 2-1 win over Espanyol, earning them a place in the semi finals of the Copa del Rey.

Mirandes hail from Miranda de Ebro, a small town in the north of Spain with a population of 39,000, smaller than the capacity of Espanyol’s stadium. They are only the second team from Segunda B to make it to the semi finals in the competition’s history and have done it the hard way, knocking out three Liga teams.

Against the odds

The Copa does not have the same prestige as the FA Cup, in part due to a football federation that does its utmost to undermine it. It is seeded so that the La Liga teams in European competition are guaranteed to play teams from Segunda A or below once they enter the cup in the fourth round. Life is made even harder for lesser teams due to two-legged ties, making giant killings a rare phenomenon.

This makes Mirandés’s achievements all the more remarkable. Their first Copa match of the season was back in August, a hard-fought 1-0 win over Basque minnows Amorbieta. In the fourth round they were paired with Villarreal, who began this season playing in the Champions League. Mirandés would have won the first leg 1-0 had Borja Valero not scored a late equaliser. Marca’s headline after the game read: “Borja Valero prevents a humiliation.” The implication was that Villarreal would easily overcome the Segunda B side in the return leg at the Madrigal. They were wrong. The visitors won 2-0, Infante getting both goals.

In the following round, Mirandés knocked out Racing Santander, another La Liga side, winning 2-0 at home and drawing 1-1 away, Infante getting a goal in both games. A trip to Espanyol was their toughest test yet, one they seemed to have passed when the score line read 2-0 to the visitors after 85 minutes. But in six extraordinary minutes Espanyol scored three times. It looked as if Mirandés had blown it.

Cometh the hour, cometh Infante

They needed a 1-0 or 2-1 victory in the return leg to take them through on away goals. Their 6,000 seater Anduva stadium was filled to the brim for the match, but the hosts found themselves 1-0 down at the start of the second half. Infante threw his side a lifeline with half an hour to go, scoring with an opportunistic shot from 25 yards out that crept in off the post.

The hosts gave their all from then on but looked to be going out until they got a free-kick in stoppage time, for which they brought up their goalkeeper.

Infante stepped up to take the free kick but did not shoot, instead playing a clever, low cross, which was nodded on by centre-back César Caneda into the back of the net to give Mirandés an extraordinary lead. They kept their nerve for the remaining two minutes and when the whistle went a pitch invasion ensued.

Infante was held aloft on his shoulders by his teammates, none of whom had experienced anything like this before in a football match. Their celebrations continued long into the night, but Infante could not join them. He had to be up to at 7am the next morning to get to work.

Mourinho could be off but title may return to Madrid

José Mourinho is no ordinary manager and Real Madrid are no ordinary club. These two facts need stating before revealing that, despite Real Madrid increasing their lead over Barcelona to seven points, the Portugese could be on his way out the door by the end of the season. Sources close to Mourinho have allegedly said that he wants to return to managing in the Premier League next season and is tired of life at the Bernabéu, where he has been booed in recent weeks for his repeated failure to beat Barcelona.

The news comes a week after Spain’s biggest selling newspaper Marca revealed that Mourniho had a training ground bust up with Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillaas on the training ground, in which Ramos allegedly told Mourinho he did not understand some things because he was never a player.

Some might think it strange that Madrid would let Mourinho go if he does bring the title back to the capital for the first time in four years. But their reaction to the news has been one of ambivalence, and they are reportedly already lining up a replacement, with Germany manager Joachim Lowe and former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez currently being considered.

After all, even when they win trophies, Madrid have little sentiment for their managers. Fabio Capello was sacked on two separate occasions after winning the league title, while Vicente del Bosque won two Champions Leagues and two league championships in four years at the club but was shown the door nonetheless.

Madrid’s lead at the top was extended this weekend after they beat Real Zaragoza 3-1 at the Bernabéu and Barcelona could only draw 0-0 at Villarreal. The Catalans have only won four out of 10 away games this season, something they will need to improve on if they want to retain the title.

Elsewhere in La Liga

A fiery encounter between Racing Santander and Valencia ended in a 2-2 draw, with a player sent off for either side and three players leaving the pitch injured, one with concussion. There was also drama in Vallecas, where Athletic Bilbao beat Rayo Vallecano 3-2 and Fernando Llorente scored his first career hattrick.

Diego Simeone’s resurgent Atletico Madrid got another win, beating Osasuna 1-0 in the notoriously difficult Reyno de Navarra stadium.

Real Sociedad thrashed Sporting Gijón 5-1, and have now gone eight games without losing. It is a different story for Gijón, who are 19th in the league, and manager Manolo Preciado could be on his way out soon.

La Liga Week 21 Results

Espanyol 1-0 Mallorca

Real Betis 1-2

Granada Levante 1-2 Getafe

Real Madrid 3-1 Real Zaragoza

Málaga 2-1 Seville

Osasuna 0-1 Atlético Madrid

Racing Santander 2-2 Valencia

Rayo Vallecano 2-3 Athletic Bilbao

Real Sociedad 5-1 Sporting Gijón

Villarreal 0-0 Barcelona

By Richard Martin

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