Getafe poised to escape obscurity

APRIL 6 — Hands up if you know much about Getafe? I don’t see many hands... and I have to admit mine isn’t exactly shooting up into the air either.

Getafe, I’m afraid to say, are probably the most anonymous, ignorable, low-profile of all Spain’s Primera Division clubs.

I could happily spend a good few minutes talking to you about any of the other 19 teams in the Spanish top flight. Even lower lights such as Real Valladolid, whose mediocre season has been enlivened by the presence of outstanding German winger Patrick Ebert.

Even perennial relegation candidates Granada, who made some interesting signings in the January transfer window and had an entertaining (for the outsider) dispute with the city council about their stadium earlier in the season.

Even fellow Madrileños Rayo Vallecano, whose vociferous supporters, all-action brand of football and hot prospects such as Leo Baptistao have managed to attract more than a fair amount of attention despite being forced to live in the considerable shadow of Real and Atletico Madrid.

But Getafe? Well... they’re from a small city near Madrid. They wear blue. They don’t have many fans. They’re not that bad; not that good. After that, though, there’s not much to say.

A nice illustration of Getafe’s obscurity is the fact that their stadium — the inappropriately titled "Coliseum" — is named after Alfonso Perez, a local boy made good who represented Spain during the 1990s... but never actually played for Getafe. They are so hard up for celebrity connections that they had to name their stadium in honour of somebody who didn’t even play for them.

This is not, in short, a very well-known or well-followed football club.

That could change this weekend, though, because another victory for in-form Getafe over local neighbours Atletico in the Madrid derby (well, not the Madrid derby, but you know what I mean) would propel them firmly into the race for La Liga’s fourth Champions League qualification spot.

That’s right: next season’s Champions League could well feature Getafe, a club that has "boasted" the lowest attendance in the Spanish top flight in each of the last two seasons (a guesswork figure of just 5,000 people was estimated to have watched their 1-1 draw with Sevilla in January) and struggles to command much attention from media or fans in its own locale, never mind the rest of the continent.

As they prepare to welcome Atletico Madrid to the Coliseum on Sunday night (kick off 1am, Monday morning Malaysia time), Getafe are in eighth position, just five points behind Real Sociedad in the race for the all-important fourth place.

They are unbeaten in their last six games and haven’t conceded a single goal in their last four — if they can keep up that form for the next two months, their Champions League dream will turn into reality. And Getafe’s fate rests entirely in their own hands because their nine remaining games include home meetings with fellow top four contenders Sociedad and Valencia.

If they do succeed in prolonging their golden run and marching into Europe’s elite club competition, it would be a huge surprise because nobody — not even Getafe — really expected much more than mid-table comfort, a position they’ve become accustomed to since climbing into the top flight in 2004.

Their campaign got off to a good start with a 2-1 victory over Real Madrid in their first home game, launching the early-season derailment of Jose Mourinho’s team that resulted in the prompt dissolution of the reigning champions’ title challenge.

A batch of typically unobtrusive results followed: a few wins, a few draws and a few defeats. For the first half of the season they were the epitome of mid-table obscurity, never winning more than three in a row but never losing more than twice on the trot.

But then 2013 came along and brought with it a sudden upturn in form. Aside from expected losses away at Real Madrid and Barcelona, Getafe are now unbeaten in nine games, mainly thanks to a defence that has only conceded six goals during those nine contests.

Getafe’s defence will have to stay strong because they certainly aren’t an explosive team going forward. They are the lowest scorers out of the European contenders (Lionel Messi on his own has registered five more league goals than their team tally of 38) and their top scorer, experienced midfielder Diego Castro, has only got seven goals... four of which were penalties.

They have no star names and none of their players have been linked with moves to bigger clubs, with the exception of Moroccan international midfielder Abdel Barrada who has reportedly attracted the attention of a host of English Premier League teams, including Southampton and Manchester City.

Their task this weekend against Atletico will not be easy. Diego Simeone’s team are a tough, competitive unit and at the moment they’re particularly motivated by the opportunity of finishing above deadly local rivals Real Madrid in the battle for second place, with just one point currently separating the teams.

But Getafe have plenty of their own motivation. For a small club that has never won a major honour, securing a maiden adventure in the Champions League would be a remarkable achievement. Victory on Sunday night could allow Getafe to cast aside their cloak of anonymity — perhaps it’s time for the rest of us to watch and learn.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.



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