Historic Matches - Liga 2000

DATE: Friday 19 May, 2000
EVENT: Deportivo win their first ever Liga title by beating Espanyol 2-0 on the final matchday.


Deportivo, founded in 1906, had never won a Liga title when in 1994 a dramatic penalty miss of Miroslav Djukic only added another traumatic event to the history of the club. But six years after that history was rewritten when Javier Irureta led the club in his second season in charge to their first ever Liga title. But all season long the fear had been there of another dramatic failure.


In August 1999 there were no Pandiani, Tristán, Valerán or Luque at the club and back then Deportivo had never played a match in the Champions League. The years before had been characterized by irregular performances as the club just avoided relegation in 1998 and finished sixth after the season 1998/1999 had finished.

And those summer months there was no expectation of Deportivo winning the title because their mayor signing came from a relegated club: Dutch striker Roy Makaay who left Tenerife to join the Galicians. Also César Martí­n, Víctor Sánchez and Jokanovic joined Deportivo those days. But the club saw players like Bonnissel, Armando, Ziani, Hadji and Manjarí­n leaving the club.

The advantage of the team was the absence of pressure though and the fact that most players were used to each other. Goalkeeper Songo'o had been there for a while and the heart of the team consisted of Naybet, Donato, Fran and Mauro Silva. To them can be added talented players like Flavio Conceicao, Ví­ctor Sánchez and Manuel Pablo who all together would form a team difficult to beat.


The team started the season well with a hattrick of Makaay on the first matchday in Riazor against Alavés (4-1), despite the visiting team scored the first goal of the season. This win was followed by valuable draws at Betis (0-0) and Real Madrid (1-1), as the club from the capital only could equalize near the end. After four matchdays the Galicians occupied the fourth position as in the weeks before Valladolid were beaten 2-0. The five matches after this period saw two victories, one draw and defeats against little Numancia (0-2) and at Valencia (2-0). As FC Barcelona already had acquired 20 points at that moment all indicated that finishing among the top four would already make the season successful for Deportivo.

But then the period started that later would appear to be crucial for the title win: Deportivo won seven Liga matches in a row, including victories against Barcelona (2-1), Atlético de Madrid (1-3) and Celta de Vigo (1-0). This last match was the top meeting of the sixteenth matchday as it concerned first placed Deportivo (33 points) and second placed Celta (28 points). The goal of 'Turu' Flores, who else supporters of Celta might ask, earned Deportivo a eighth point lead at the top although it also marked the end of the successful period.


Suddenly there was the pressure again as leading the Liga at the end of 1999 had made Deportivo favourites to win the title that season. If that was the reason why the team failed at the start of 2000 will never be known, but only 1 points was taken out of the next 12 including a dramatic 0-3 home defeat against Racing de Santander. Deportivo were back to earth and saw Zaragoza being placed at just two points and Barcelona at four. The Liga was open again.

What might have saved the title was the Copa exit the team suffered that same period as Osasuna proved to be too strong. Also, the terrible 5-1 UEFA Cup beating at Arsenal of 9 March made it possible that the team could focus all the efforts on the Liga. At matchday 24 the team suffered a 1-0 defeat at Numancia but still the team led the Primera División, also thanks to an amazing 5-2 home win against Real Madrid. But for how long?

Two home victories in a row, against Athletic and Mallorca, gave the team the breathing space it so desperately needed. 49 was the number of points at the end of February and saw the team having a six points lead over Zaragoza and Real Madrid and eighth over Barcelona. However, the 2-1 defeat suffered at the Nou Camp against Barcelona on matchday 29 gave new fuel to the suspicion that Deportivo could not handle the pressure. It gave the Catalan team the boost it needed to fight for the title and indicated that the final weeks of the season would be intense.

Crucial was the away victory Deportivo achieved on 2 April at Sevilla (1-3). The hard-fought win, despite intense home pressure, was achieved thanks to two early goals of Jokanovic and one goal of Makaay. It was a badly needed away victory because the previous one had been of 12 December (0-1 at Real Sociedad) and Barcelona had almost covered the two point lead of Deportivo by winning 3-0 against Valencia. The next matchday Mallorca handed the Galicians a present from heaven by winning 0-3 at the Nou Camp while Deportivo themselves crushed Atlético 4-1 thanks to another hattrick of Roy Makaay. After a 2-0 loss at Rayo Vallecano and a 2-0 win against Real Sociedad the team still occupied the first position by five points with just four matches to go.

But a disaster still looked around the corner as Barcelona took three points from their visit to Atlético (0-3) while Deportivo lost the regional derby at Celta de Vigo (2-1). The distance was back to two points while Barcelona had a much better goaldifference. Real Madrid and Real Zaragoza also kept waiting for a failure from the team who had been leading the Primera División from matchday 12.

Matchday 36 will be remembered for the dramatic events which evolved that weekend. On Saturday night Barcelona suffered a shocking 0-2 home defeat against Rayo Vallecano while Real Madrid dropped out of the title race because of a 0-1 home loss against Alavés. That Sunday it was up to Deportivo to finish off Zaragoza in Riazor and to open up a decisive five point lead over Barcelona with two matches remaining. But Zaragoza hadn't come to Riazor to be slaughtered and took the lead in the second half through Juanele. Losing was no option for Deportivo that day because it would get Barcelona back in the title race and add Zaragoza as a serious contender too. That's why the relief was so big when Makaay equalized the match and even more when Djalminha put Deportivo in front.

Never since 1994 had the club been so close to winning the title and the Brazilian knew it. He had been booked earlier that match but celebrated the emotional goal by throwing his shirt on the ground. He was booked for a second time and it left Deportivo defending the lead with just ten men. Fortunately the team survived the siege from Zaragoza, although the visitors scored the equalizer, and a valuable point was added to the total. Zaragoza were kept at a decisive five points distance although Barcelona still had chances being at three points: just one victory.

14 May saw Deportivo visiting Racing de Santander and Barcelona playing at Real Sociedad. The Cantabrians were close to survival that season in the Primera División and a win would definitely assure that. For their part, Deportivo were without suspended Djalminha and with their bad record in away matches. Fortunately the team held on to a 0-0 draw although ex-Deportivo player Manjarí­n was close to scoring a winner. Meanwhile Barcelona were also held to a 0-0 draw at Real Sociedad and Deportivo survived this hurdle to take a three point back to Riazor for the final day of the season.

Because Real Madrid would play the Champions League final, the team from the capital was allowed to play its last match of the season on Friday and with it obliged the other matches to take place the same day, to avoid other teams knowing the results before playing themselves. Therefore Friday 19 May, 2000 was the unusual day Deportivo could win their first ever Liga title.

The scenario was still subject to speculation because Catalan club Espanyol would visit Riazor, with already a safe mid-table position secured, while Galicians Celta had only an intertoto place to play for in their visit to Barcelona. A win of Barcelona and a loss of Deportivo would be the only way the Galicians would again lose the title. But that would involve Espanyol helping their big brother, something held impossible. The referee would be Garcí­a-Aranda, the same man who was present when Deportivo won their first ever trophy: the Copa del Rey of 1995.

Espanyol put up a serious fight though, with players like Sergio and Tamudo in their team, but saw Donato giving Deportivo an early lead in this decisive match in Riazor. The Riazor crowd suffered some frightening moments when the home team looked vulnerable now and then but Roy Makaay soon sentenced all by scoring the second goal. Meanwhile, Celta had achieved a 0-2 score at half-time in Barcelona and all fear left Riazor that moment.

After the 90 minutes were over the supporters of Deportivo invaded the pitch and the celebrations started, six years after they had to be cancelled at the last moment. In 2000 added another succesfull part to history of the club and for the first time the club qualified for the Champions League. Finally the Djukic miss could be forgotten and the future looked bright for the club.

Deportivo: Songo'o - Romero, Donato, Naybet, Manuel Pablo - Fran, Jokanovic, Mauro Silva, Ví­ctor Sánchez, Djalminha - Makaay. Coach: Javier Irureta
Espanyol: Mora - Cristóbal, Pochettino, Soldevilla, Roger - Sergio, Galca, Toni Velazamán, Arteaga - De Lucas, Tamudo. Coach: Francisco Flores
Goals: 1-0: (3') Donato, 2-0: (34') Makaay.
Referee: Garcí­a-Aranda
Attendance: 35,000 (Estadio Riazor)