This topsy-turvy world

From Bal­lon d’Or to play­ing in front of 7 000 fans.

The Citizen (KZN) - - SPORT - Madrid

Luka Mo­dric has been voted the best player on the planet and Real Madrid crowned Euro­pean cham­pi­ons three times in a row but in Huesca to­day they will meet a team from the op­po­site end of the lad­der.

Madrid´s stars gath­ered in Paris on Mon­day, dressed in shiny black suits and bow-ties, to watch their mid­field ma­gi­cian col­lect the Bal­lon d’Or ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ron­aldo.

“He is at his peak,” Real coach San­ti­ago So­lari said. “That makes it even more beau­ti­ful.”

They head this week­end to north­ern Spain and Al­co­raz, Huesca’s re­cently-ex­panded sta­dium with a ca­pac­ity of just over 7 000, in a town of lit­tle more than 52 000 peo­ple.

There, they face La Liga’s bot­tom club, on seven points from 14 games, but Huesca’s as­cent be­gan far lower down than that.

The ma­jor­ity of their 58-year his­tory has been spent be­tween the third and fourth tiers. They were lan­guish­ing in Se­gunda B as re­cently as 2015.

Pro­moted to the top flight for the first time at the end of last sea­son, Huesca over­hauled their squad, but on a shoe-string bud­get, with a mix of play­ers from lower di­vi­sions, promis­ing young­sters and old heads from abroad.

They changed coach too, twice, af­ter Rubi was poached by Es­panyol. He was re­placed by Leo Franco, who only lasted un­til Oc­to­ber. Then in came Fran­cisco, who is yet to see a vic­tory.

This will be Huesca´s first time host­ing ei­ther of Spain´s two gran­dees.

“We have seen peo­ple are be­hind us de­spite the re­sults and pushes us to turn it around,” Fran­cisco said last week. “Our home has to be a fortress.”

In the sum­mer of 2013, Real Madrid bought Gareth Bale for a world record €100 mil­lion while Huesca signed seven play­ers, all for noth­ing.

Madrid are in good form and Bale, again, has a point to prove. He came off in the sec­ond half of last week­end’s win over Va­len­cia, San­ti­ago So­lari say­ing af­ter­wards he was “ex­hausted”.

It was Bale’s 10th La Liga game without scor­ing, even if that run masks some de­cent per­for­mances, in­clud­ing two goals and an as­sist in the Cham­pi­ons League.

Real’s vic­tory over Va­len­cia, on the back of beat­ing Roma in Italy, means the 3-0 de­feat to Eibar fol­low­ing the in­ter­na­tional break seems more like a blip amid six wins from seven matches.

De­spite chang­ing coach this sea­son, a score­less drought that lasted more than eight hours and be­ing thrashed by Barcelona, Real are only five points off the top.

Last week­end, Barca, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Alaves could all have fin­ished the round in first but only two of the top six man­aged to win.

Barcelona were one of them. To­day, Ernesto Valverde’s side visit their city ri­vals Es­panyol.

Atletico host Alaves, who have fin­ished ev­ery week­end in the top six since round five. Sevilla are away to Va­len­cia, a side that last sea­son fin­ished fourth but now sit 14th. – AFP

Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

LUKA MO­DRIC

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