Atleti fight through the storm to win the Copa de la Reina

Copa de la Reina Final 2023

It was supposed to be a historic day for Real Madrid’s women’s team. Founded only three years ago, they were strong favourites to win their first ever trophy and for more than an hour everything was going to plan. Then came the storm. Not just from the heavens above but from an Atlético Madrid side that fought back in stunning fashion to win the 2023 Copa de la Reina.

In an era where women’s football in Spain is dominated by FC Barcelona, the Catalan side’s elimination from the Copa de la Reina after fielding an ineligible player in the Last 16, offered a rare chance for other clubs to get their hands on some silverware.

It was one the Madrid clubs were desperate not to miss out on. Both swept past their opponents 4-0 in the Semi-Finals last week to set up a mouthwatering derby Final, taking place on the fringes of the Spanish capital in Leganés.

Despite the forecast of thunderstorms and a 10:00 p.m. kick-off, both Real Madrid and Atleti were well backed in the Estadio Butarque and for an hour on Saturday evening, there was a real sense of occasion and noise befitting of a major derby in a big Cup Final.

On the pitch, Real Madrid took control and played with a maturity and confidence you wouldn’t associate with a team never to have won silverware, not to mention one featuring so many young talents. 

Atletico Madrid Women vs Real Madrid Women

They were 2-0 up inside an hour, thanks to perfectly placed headers. The first came from a corner with French international Sandie Toletti heading home to the delight of the large Las Blancas contingent inside the stadium. 

Then, early in the Second Half, impressive 18 year old Linda Caicedo provided the assist for Real Madrid with a cross to the back post which was expertly headed back into the far corner by centre-back Ivana Andrés.

At that point, there was no real sign of Atlético Madrid getting even a serious foothold in the match, let alone coming back to win. Then came the storm.

The skies above unleashed the most torrential of downpours which led to thousands in the stands seeking cover, not the easiest task in a small stadium without sheltered concourses and where only one stand has a roof. It wasn’t just the rain, but the threat from the lightning that lit up the skies above which had many vacating their seats and in many cases heading for home.

Rain at Butarque

On the pitch, the action continued, but by this point to a backdrop of empty blue seats and a scattering of people sheltering under umbrellas, rather than the festive football atmosphere that had greeted the First Half.

As the rain continued to pour down, Atleti sought a lifeline, but it wasn’t until the 88th minute that they got it. Excellent work from Estefanía Banini on the left flank, resulted in the Argentine cutting the ball back for substitute Lucía Moral Ruiz to provide a neat finish past Misa Rodríguez in the Real Madrid goal.

Banini was by this point, seemingly on a one-woman mission to turn this Cup Final on its head and in the 95th minute, she provided the game’s defining point. More than 25 yards out, the 32 year old managed to find the perfect elevation to lift a free-kick over the Real Madrid wall and again Misa was unable to get near an effort which dipped in under the crossbar, sparking wild celebrations from the Atleti players and bench.

Suddenly, they were heading for Extra Time in a Final that for almost 90 minutes had only looked like producing one outcome. 

To make matters worse for Real Madrid, Coach Alberto Toril had taken off four players by this point, including the dangerous Caicedo, in an effort to see the game out. 

His side struggled to exert their dominance again in what were now very difficult conditions in Extra Time. It was past midnight by this point and those that had braced the weather to stay inside Butarque were now bracing themselves for a nerve-wracking penalty shootout to decide the destiny of the 2023 Copa de la Reina.

Umbrellas in Football Stadium

There could be little doubt that the momentum was with Atleti and they also had the advantage of going first in the shootout. Carmen Menayo and Caroline Weir converted the opening penalties for each team but then things really started to turn in favour of those of a red and white persuasion.

Irene Guerrero was up next for Atlético Madrid and her penalty just found a way past Misa, despite the goalkeeper getting a good hand on the ball. Real Madrid’s Olga Carmona went for the same corner, but again the keeper guessed correctly and this time Lola Gallardo was able to save with her legs. Advantage Atleti.

The next two penalties went to the opposite corner with both keepers again diving the right way with a similar outcome. Eva Navarro’s penalty, arguably the best of the bunch, was just out of Misa’s grasp while Lola Gallardo was able to deny Teresa Abelleira ensuring Atleti had one hand on the trophy.

The stage seemed perfectly set for Banini, already the game’s main protagonist, to finish the job by converting the winning penalty. She’d already beaten Misa from more than twice the distance but found twelve yards trickier as the Real Madrid keeper produced an excellent save to keep the Final alive.

The joy was very short-lived for Las Blancos though as substitute Sofie Svava skied the next penalty to start the party for Atlético Madrid, winners of the Copa de la Reina for only the second time in their history, courtesy of one of the most dramatic Finals in the competition’s history. They would celebrate long into the night at Butarque with even the appalling conditions doing little to wipe the smiles off the faces of the Atleti players and their friends, family and supporters.

For Real Madrid, this was unquestionably a major setback and it may be a long summer as they try to digest just how they managed to let this slip. While their progress in such a short time is clear, in an age of Barça dominance, genuine opportunities to win that elusive first major trophy may not come around all that often. There surely won’t be many better than this one.

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