BEEP! BEEP! My alarm goes off at 5:31 a.m. The day I had dreamed about for three weeks straight finally arrived.
I turn my phone on and the WhatsApp messages come flying in. Scrolling down all of them one by one, adrenaline began to run through my veins.
”We got this!”, written by a Peña friend from Boston.
“Champions League is our turf and we will shock the world of anti-Madridismo,” send sanother Peña friend from North Macedonia. Despite a 1-2 aggregate deficit, Madridismo showcased confidence.
Since this was the most crucial game of the season, I took the day off from work to attend my Peña’s watch party at El Tejano bar in downtown LA. This was the spot where we witnessed the Duodécima (12th) and Décimotercera (13th) title victories. A lot of happiness and good luck filled that space.
At 10:00 am I headed out. While sporting a Peña polo shirt and scarf on the passenger seat, my car stereo played “Real Madrid Oé Oé” on loop. During the 30-minute drive, I answered a few calls from local Members asking for my arrival time. I could feel their joy and anticipation. I turn the volume up and sing along.
I parked in the usual lot across the street and walk over with a pep to my step. I could see the familiar faces inside. After opening the double doors, the warm greetings shower from every direction.
”Christian, great to see you!” exclaims one Board Member. Another Member shouts, “Time to knock out Guardiola, right?” It was a marathon of hugs and high-fives. There was not a single worried look. Servers ran from table to table taking and delivering orders. Every bar stool was taken by a person in a white jersey.
Exactly one hour before kickoff, Madridistas scanned their social media feeds to see if the starting lineup was released. It was:
Areola, Mendy, Varane, Militão, Carvajal, Kroos, Casemiro, Valverde, Isco, Vinicius Jr, Benzema.
Members began to chat about the matchups, which player needed to deliver and which Manchester City player was the most dangerous. As the clock ticked closer to noon, I checked my social media feed for photos from other USA Peña watch parties. Coast to coast, each Peña bar was filled to capacity.
At 11:55 am, the bar speakers were switched to the broadcast commentary. Every TV had the Manchester City - Real Madrid game on. When the cameras showed both teams in the tunnel, applause and cheers broke out.
”Come on Toni! Let’s go Vinicius! You can do this.” rang from the tables. I finally take my seat with three other Members. Our excitement was quickly replaced with seriousness. The team needed a 0 - 2 victory to advance.
As the teams walked out, Etihad stadium was filled with blue flags, except the away section which had white jerseys and Spanish flags. The bar immediately went silent. Our favourite pre-game hymn was playing.
After the camera passed the Manchester City players, Members rooted loudly as each Real Madrid starter came up on the screens. Our Peña was ready. Kickoff!
As expected, Manchester City kept possession early on and attempted slow build-up. However, Real Madrid’s midfield was laser sharp. Every City pass was blocked or intercepted by Casemiro or Valverde. When the ball was in Manchester City territory, Members applauded.
I noticed intense focus from Real Madrid’s play. Zidane was barking instructions to the defense. There couldn’t be ANY mistakes. A half hour passed and the score was still 0-0.
With five minutes to go before halftime, Real Madrid won a corner kick after Mendy’s cross was blocked by Kyle Walker. The men in dark blue kits crowded the box. Each free kick situation was a golden opportunity against a team that loved to hog the ball. Members anxiously sat at the edge of their seats....
GOAL! Would you believe it? Raphael Varane soared over two defenders and headed Toni Kroos’s cross past goalkeeper Ederson to the far post. El Tejano erupted with screams of joy and hugs.
Manchester City 0, Real Madrid 1!
The TVs displayed shocked City fans and raucous Real Madrid away supporters. A smile stretched my face from ear to ear. This was exactly how it needed to go so far. One more goal to score and concede none dominated my mind.
After the halftime whistle blew, Guardiola charged straight into the tunnel. Members jeered at the sight of him. During the 15-minute break, Peña Chairman Carlos Hernandez got up to make several announcements. Then the entire Peña grouped together for a photo. Members held scarves up and shouted together, “Hala Madrid” before the flash.
As the teams returned to the field, Members discussed possible substitution choices. Some wanted to see Mariano Díaz for energy. Others wanted Isco for possession. I preferred Luka Modrić for experience.
The second half starts and Manchester City turns the heat up. Their passing is faster and movement off the ball is quicker. Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are ripping through the lines. Real Madrid are forced to commit more tactical fouls to halt the momentum.
Each time the ball finds Gabriel Jesus in the box, the Members hold their breath. One shot goes over the net. The next shot from outside the box is pushed wide by Areola. Within the span of 15 minutes, Manchester City takes nine shots with six on target. My friends and I look at each other with concern. I think, “The dam is taking too much water. How much longer can we hold them off?”
Inside the final ten minutes, Zidane makes a double sub. He puts in Mariano and Modrić and takes out Vinicius and Casemiro. As the change occurs, the bar applauds each player coming off and cheers each one coming on.
The fate of our quest for the Décimocuarta (14th title) rested with these warriors. The tension rises to a smouldering high as the teams battle harder for possession. The fouls were harder and the yellow cards started to come out. This level of intensity seeps through the screens to the Peña. Members began to sweat while watching the minutes tick away. Time was running out.
Once injury time of three minutes was shown by the fourth UEFA official on the sideline, the Peña Members stood up to cheer the team. “Hasta el Final, Vamos Real” chants rang from our throats. This was do or die.
In the 92nd minute, Manchester City was entirely in their half defending. Real Madrid swung the ball side to side, looking for an interior opening. Lo and behold, Isco knives a pass to Karim Benzema above the semi-circle. City’s defense tries to swarm as locusts but were too late.
Benzema, with his back to goal, taps the ball back to a charging Modrić. It appeared as if it was in slow motion. Every Madridista eye was glued to the screens. The ball connects with Modrić’s right foot cleanly. In a second, the ball is darted just above the ground, past all the City defenders’ legs, and hits the inside of the right post.
GOOOOLAAAAZOOOOO! Chairs fell down. Members tipped over beer glasses. I ran from one end to the other before finally sliding with both knees on the wet floor in celebration. The 2018 Ballon d’Or king did it!
Manchester City 0, Real Madrid 2!
When the TVs showed the over 3,000 Madridistas in the lone away section, all hands were clenched with euphoric hugs. Delirious smiles and tears of joy were on each face. I even spotted the famous Toñín el Torero and friends from Peña Madridista Carabaña in the crowd.
Finally, a replay image of Guardiola’s sad face was the icing on the cake. “How are you going to spin this now? Bye bye Pep!”, shouted several gleeful Members. Fernandinho and Sterling were slumped in defeat.
After the final whistle sounded, the Peña gathered together shoulder to shoulder to sing “Hala Madrid y nada más” acapella. Real Madrid players jumped and hugged while City players covered their teary faces with jerseys.
Real Madrid added yet another epic comeback to their illustrious Champions League history and were headed to the quarterfina —-
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! My eyes open. I see nothing but pitch black. My mind is racing as the sensation from another reality was still in my system. What happened? Where am I? It cannot be....
My clock read 5:32 a.m. The truth set in. The return leg in Manchester was postponed days ago.
There was no Champions League game. There was no soccer. There were no sports at all due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
It was just a dream.
Christian Paredes (@Xian_D_Paredes) is a Founding Member and former Chairman (2012-2016) of La Peña Madridista Sur de California (@RmSurCalifornia)