Seville came to a standstill: It was time for El Gran Derbi
The Seville derby between Real Betis and Sevilla FC might just be the most underrated rivalry in world football. El Gran Derbi – ‘The Great Derby’ as the locals call it – is as interesting, passionate and historic as Glasgow’s Old Firm, Belgrade’s Eternal Derby or even the Super Clasico between Boca Juniors and River Plate.
Every time these sides meet the match takes centre stage. But this season, the fixture had major implications for their European aspirations.
Europe on the line
Real Betis, nicknamed Los Verdiblancos (The Green and Whites), had not finished above their rivals Sevilla, Los Rojiblancos (The Red and Whites), since the 2012/13 season but were well-set to do so this year. For Sevilla, their primary objective was to secure seventh position in the table and in the process a spot in next season’s Europa League, a tournament they have won an unprecedented five times this century. For Betis, who had already wrapped up their place in the competition, preventing their neighbours from qualifying would have given their fans a very early Christmas present!
A win for Betis would also have seen them complete a double over their rivals, having won a wild match 5-3 away at the Sanchez-Pizjuan earlier this season for a first derby victory since 2014. It was a huge deal for the club, so much so that their legendary captain Joaquín ordered the squad to stay out partying until at least 5am. Not since 1994/95 have Betis taken all six LaLiga points against their cross-city rivals.
The midfield took centre stage
There may have been eight goals the last time these sides met but no one player scored more than once. In fact, all season long both teams had done a good job of sharing out the goals. Only Betis’s Sergio Leon, with 11 goals, reached double figures in this year’s LaLiga scoring charts.
For Betis, the key to their recent success had been in midfield where Fabián Ruiz, Javi García and Andrés Guardado rule the roost. Special mention must also go to Marc Bartra, the former Barcelona centre-back who signed from Borussia Dortmund in January, whose calm and collected presence has done wonders for the team’s defence.
Sevilla were also most impressive in midfield, with central midfielders Steven N'Zonzi and Ever Banega the heartbeat of the team. Up front, Luis Muriel and Wissam Ben Yedder have been deadly in front of goal.
A city divided
This match meant so much to local fans because Seville is a city split right down the middle. Unlike in many other cities across Spain and Europe, the two clubs boast a similar-sized fan base. It’s uncommon to find a whole family that supports the same team. This mixed support only increases the debate, the stakes and, of course, the decibel levels.
With both sides founded over a century ago, this is one of the longest-running rivalries in LaLiga. Officially the first derby took place in 1915, with Betis taking the match 1-0 thanks to a goal from Alberto Henke. It was already a huge deal back then; the victors paraded through the city centre with the trophy they’d been awarded!
Unofficially these two clubs have been at loggerheads for even longer though. The first match-up is said to have taken place on Valentine’s Day 1909. It may have been a day of love, but there has never been much love lost between these two sides since then.
There is as much good-natured humour as there is animosity to this rivalry, however. Jokes and pranks have always formed part of the derby, and the moment two Betis-supporting builders emblazoned the Betis badge onto Sevilla’s stadium during renovation works will live long in the memory of fans.
From Seville to the world
On an international level, the profile of the derby is growing day by day. Sevilla have won five Europa League titles since the turn of the century and regularly reach the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Betis, meanwhile, have rolled out an exciting possession-based style of football under Coach Quiqué Setien and will be in next season’s Europa League, piquing the interests of football purists both at home and abroad. And, with official supporter groups stretching from Scotland to New York City, these clubs continue to grow in stature every day.
Getafe’s defeat allowed Sevilla to secure seventh place and the final Europa League qualifying spot in Saturday’s entertaining 2-2 derby draw at Real Betis. Marc Bartra headed Betis ahead on just four minutes, Wissam Ben Yedder equalised early in the second half, Simon Kjaer then put the visitors ahead before substitute Loren Moron scored to wrap up a result which ensures both teams from the Andalusia capital will be playing in Europe next term.