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The match-to-watch: Falling in equal measure

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In a new "match-to-watch" series, Sarthak Kumar previews a match between two clubs that have fallen from La Primera, and will battle it out in the second tier.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Elche: It was the 31st of July, 2015, and Elche fans were outside the stadium. The season was long over but not for these fans. They had fireworks in their hand, but with every passing minute it looked like they would be unused.


Elche had come 13th but for the first time in their 92-year history - in fact for the first time for any club in La Liga history - had been relegated for non-sporting reasons. The team was relegated for not paying their debts on time.


So what were the fans waiting for?


Elche had until midnight to pay €4 million, otherwise they would be relegated to the Segunda B - Spain’s amateur, third tier where automatic promotion doesn’t exist, money is scarce and newly-relegated clubs can go out of business. If Elche were to be gone, they would be gone forever.


Many players tore their contracts and left the club, in effect waiving the unpaid wages Elche owed them. Some players delayed their payments. Fans were urged to buy season tickets and shirts and sponsors were desperately asked to pay.


And at 6 p.m. the announcement was made - Elche were in the second division. The fireworks came out and so did Carlos González, the mayor of Elche, calling it a "grand feat".


Yes, Elche are only allowed 18 professional players in the first team squad. And yes, Elche can only sign free agents. And yes, those new signings will be paid minimum wage - a paltry €68,000 - but at least Elche wasn’t gone. The struggle continues, but at least there is a struggle and not nothing. At least Elche exists.


The struggle continues. Fifteen players had left the club, out of which 14 had left for free. Jonathas had been sold for €7.2 million but Elche made just €600,000 on the deal. They owned 50 percent of his registration, then they had to pay Pescara the €1.5m purchase option they had on the player, and also had to pay a former club €500,000 and €1 million to Jonathas himself.


Seven players have come in on a free, and a further seven have come in on loan, including Javier Espinosa from Villarreal, Ilie Sánchez from 1860 Munich, Álex Moreno from Rayo Vallecano and Nikolaos Vergos from Olympiacos. Even then, the club has had to promote a further seven players just to make up the numbers.


In terms of sporting success, there is nothing much to call success - except for the fact that they aren’t doing too badly. Five points off the relegation places but just three off the promotion spots, Elche can be happy to be rooted in 12th - comfortably in mid-table.


At least there is a team.


Córdoba: 22nd June, 2014. Córdoba are losing 1-0 away from home and know that a goal will see them through. It’s the final of the promotion playoff between Las Palmas and Córdoba, and Las Palmas fans are holding on.


But they couldn’t, after all this was their moment - they were going to be in La Primera after 12 years of waiting. They had deserved it too - hitting the post twice and dangerous both with and without the ball; in contrast Córdoba kept making mistake after mistake. Córdoba weren’t even supposed to be here - they had come seventh in the league and were only in the playoffs as Barcelona B were ineligible.


They couldn’t hold on anymore.


And so, before the match was over and with just 30 seconds left to play, Las Palmas fans ran onto the Estadio Gran Canaria, a pitch that fans thought would host Barcelona and Real Madrid. The match was held back for 10 minutes, and the stewards and police ushered fans off the pitch.


The fans thought that was unnecessary - after all what could happen in 30 seconds?


Everything.


With just 30 seconds left, Pedro on the right wing crossed the ball into the box, reaching the unmarked Raúl Bravo, whose weak touch should have been easily saved by goalkeeper and captain Mariano Barbosa. The goalkeeper who had not put in a foot wrong for 100 minutes inexplicably didn't stop the ball with his hand, and the ball slipped through his fingers. So did Las Palmas’ promotion dreams.


Córdoba's Ulises Dávila, player who wasn’t even Córdoba’s but Chelsea’s, pounced on the loose ball, and sent Córdoba to La Liga after 42 years.


Since then, a dismal campaign saw them immediately relegated to La Segunda, and saw them having to sell their best goalkeeper to Rayo Vallecano - Juan Carlos - for a paltry €100,000. Moreover, a further 25 players left the club - 11 for free, and 13 returning to their original clubs.


However, shrewd signings have seen Córdoba rise once again. 11 players have come in for free, and Córdoba have taken full advantage of Elche’s predicament - left-winger Fidel, left-back Dominigo Cisma and 22-year-old defensive midfield starlet Rafa Gálvez will all face their former club at the Martínez Valero.


But the best player for the team has been 22-year-old Romanian striker Florin Andone, who has played in Spain since the age of 12. After playing for Villarreal C, he joined Córdoba last summer and what a difference he has made. Seven goals and three assists in fourteen games, combined with Fidel’s six goals and three assists, has seen Córdoba move up the standings from as low as 17th.


In fact, Córdoba are top of the league and no one can really complain - they have the most wins from 17 matches, and look set for automatic promotion. However, Elche are gradually improving and are unbeaten in their last two games.


On the 18th of December at 7:30 PM GMT, Elche host Córdoba in what promises to be a spectacle.


For it’s a battle between the club that didn’t survive in La Liga, against the club that barely survived at all.