Real Madrid vs Valencia CF, Copa del Rey Final 1979

Simplicity is king, especially in a football cup format. Domestic cup competitions owe their mythos to minnows slaying giants, maybe even going on a run through multiple stages. The best formats encourage such runs: no staggered entries, no seeding, no replays. On a given night any team should be able to advance against opposition from a higher flight if luck favours them. An elegant system.

The Copa del Rey in 1978/79 ticks some of those boxes. It seems teams of the same flight would join the competition at different stages. Byes were handed out in the middle of the competition. Return legs reduced the chances for upsets. By the time teams reached the final they could well have played a dozen matches.

Going by their stature and usual level of success, in 1978/79 it had been a while since Real Madrid and Valencia CF had made it that far in the Copa. Whereas Madrid had won back to back editions in ‘74 and ‘75, Valencia had finished runners-up thrice in a row from ‘70 to ‘72.

Not that the road to the final had been all that easy in ‘78/79. Already in the Round of 64 Real went toe to toe with their city rivals. Atlético would go on to finish third in the league that season, and held Real to two draws. The Merengues prevailed on penalties. Valencia’s toughest test came in the Round of 16 going against holders Barcelona. A timely exit looked all but assured after a 1:4 loss at Camp Nou, only for Valencia to win the second leg at home 4:0.

Madrid’s plan foiled by injuries

With 70.000 spectators crammed into Vicente Calderón Valencia get the match underway. It only takes a few minutes until the crowd take notice of the Che’s main man. On the left wing Mario Kempes had skipped past two defenders and pulled into Madrid’s box. It would be a recurring image of the night. Though, on the first occurrence his end product is lacking as a low cross doesn’t find its intended target. Madrid take it up the pitch with pace right away. Francisco Aguilar blows by José Carrete. Valencia’s captain recovers quickly and clears the attack with a clean tackle for a corner.

Already in these opening minutes Madrid’s most promising approach shows. Real threaten when they structure their play around very direct, vertical passing which clears more than one line of defence. Then they are able to capitalize on the pace of their wingers, Aguilar’s counterpart on the right wing is non other than Santillana. Additionally the Madrid full backs push high up on both sides. Captain Gregorio Benito covers as a last man while everybody else in white is stationed in Valencia’s half.

Approximate formations and player movements for Real Madrid vs Valencia CF, June 30th 1979; Note: After 10 minutes Santillana was replaced by Vitoria who switched sides with Aguilar

Approximate formations and player movements for Real Madrid vs Valencia CF, June 30th 1979; Note: After 10 minutes Santillana was replaced by Vitoria who switched sides with Aguilar

Any good plan needs to be adaptable though. Ten minutes into the cup final substitute Alberto Vitoria is already limbering up on the sidelines, a jacket thrown loosely over his shoulders lest he be confused for an active team member. Santillana must have picked up a knock somewhere. Madrid’s doctor is trying in vain to massage the pain out of his thigh. It can’t be helped. Santillana, 26 goals to his name for the season, is subbed off after just 12 minutes. Vitoria slots in on the left wing, Aguilar moves over to the right, Roberto Martínez remains in the middle.

From the centre of the pitch Uli Stielike chips a beautifully weighted pass into the box for Martínez to run onto. The forward sees his shot blocked at the last second (17’).

Kempes’ playground tenacity

Valencia are for the most part reduced to route one counter attacks. At best they move it up the wings themselves and find Kempes on the ground. A lot of early crosses are just lobbed up, though, into hard to reach places for either Darío Felman or Kempes. The latter is covering a lot of ground anyway, drifting out to either wing and constantly dropping back into the middle third getting lots of touches in the center circle.

After capturing two Pichichis, the trophy awarded to La Liga’s top goalscorer, Kempes had an excellent showing at the World Cup 1978, proving integral to Argentina’s success. Now he had hit a sophomore slump. ‘78/79 saw his production fall back to human levels, as the 24-year-old scored 18 goals in 46 matches. It’s likely one reason why Valencia regressed from finishing fourth in ‘77/78 to seventh in ‘78/79.

To suggest Valencia are a one man team would be selling short a lot of incredible players; Ricardo Arias, Rainer Bonhof or Enrique Saura to name but a few. Yet Kempes carries himself with the air of being that one kid in the playground who takes having a kick-around just a little bit too serious. Only this is a Cup final. And Real Madrid have enjoyed the better opening twenty minutes.

Kempes catches a defender snoozing on the ball, and knicks the ball off him. All of his teammates are taken by surprise as well, so Kempes proceeds to go for goal from an insane angle. It still earns Valencia a corner. Kempes picks up the ball and delivers the set piece himself. The cross lands in the thankful arms of Mariano Gracía Remón. Somehow Kempes didn’t also get on the end of it. But Valencia have finally arrived, players on the ball are now sizing their opponent up. Ángel Castellanos capitalizes on an errant pass in Madrid’s build-up, goes for glory 20 yards out, and forces Remón into a fingertip save at full stretch.

Madrid’s right back Isidoro San José blazes a trail down the wing. His link up with Aguilar works, the latter’s delivery into the box doesn’t. Valencia counter, not at breakneck speed, rather deliberately waiting until Kempes is out on the left wing, the area just deserted by San José. As Kempes gets the ball Vicente del Bosque is scampering back to cover for his full back. Del Bosque gets a foot on the ball but Kempes, channelling that playground tenacity, takes it around him all the same, goes into the box, and simply slams home from close range (24’).

Wolff misses from the spot

A reporter bugs Pasieguito with a microphone for an instant reaction to the goal. Sadly the sound is not carried over on the re-broadcast footage as the manager’s body language doesn’t suggest it’s actually his side who just went up 1:0. Possibly it’s just a general annoyance with the reporter. Pasieguito is shown again a few minutes later after Arias had brought down Vitoria in the box which was rightly judged a penalty by referee Emilio Guruceta. There’s no microphone in Pasieguito’s face as Enrique Wolff steps up to take the spot kick. The Argentine defender sets his aim for the right side of goal. With Remón beaten Wolff’s shot hits the post (28’).

Madrid’s delivery into the first line is lacking. Errant balls are just recycled around the back-four by Valencia who go upfield rather unimaginatively. Even Kempes takes a breather to close out the first half. The only bit of commotion in either box before the break comes at José Luis Manzanedo’s end as Valencia’s keeper blocks a Martínez shot from close range (35’).

Valencia set the tone to start the second half. Madrid are not yet in a hurry. Stielike and Del Bosque distribute play around the back, though, that snappy verticality went missing at some point. “Creating” play rests a lot on the full backs’ shoulders when they take the ball forward themselves or provide options on the overlap. Everything takes just a little too long, allowing Valencia to set up around the box.

From that more massive set-up, counter attacking opportunities spring up. Felman and Kempes link up well as Felman is targeted with the first pass from the back, and serves as a relay station to release Kempes with pace.

A sense of inevitability

With time passing Madrid see much more of the ball. The default setup shifts into Valencia’s half. As the defence is in position, though, high lobs into the box for Martínez hardly help to create chances. It takes 17 minutes for Madrid to register their first shot on target in the second half: a tame header from Del Bosque which is easily caught by Manzanedo.

Much more urgent is Martínez’ headed effort midway through the second half. Off a scuffed shot and with Manzanedo prone on the ground Martínez, twisting, guides a header against the post. Two defenders had covered on the goal-line tightening the window. A sense of inevitability has set in and is compounded soon after by Guruceta denying Madrid a second penalty. Manzanedo had clattered into Aguilar going for a pass sent into the box. Guruceta has Madrid play on for the advantage which is squandered by the forwards (26’).

Only a minute later Madrid earn a free kick high up on the right wing. Vitoria catches Manzanedo by surprise, eschewing his team mates waiting in the box in favor of going straight for goal. With the goalkeeper scrambling the ball lands on top of the bar.

Valencia have weathered the storm. While the sails may be torn, the masts held. With growing belief in the impending win they push out a bit more. Four minutes from time Pasieguito brings on Miguel Tendillo for Daniel Solsona.

Madrid have run out of steam. Adding insult to injury they need to replace Remón who had received treatment for a thigh injury before. Bandaged up he played on but is now limping off the field. Kempes is nice enough to let replacement Javier Maté get a few touches before welcoming him properly. Kempes had once again torn through the right side of Madrid’s defence. While his first shot was blocked the rebound comes back to him. Maté is still sprawled out, Kempes slams home the 2:0 at the final whistle.


  • Man Of The Match: Kempes
  • Best hair: Kempes
  • Viewing recommendation: Kempes

No but seriously, highlights are enough for this one, and can be found below. Full match is over on footballia for your perusal. If you like the write-up follow us on Facebook and/or on Twitter so you will be notified of future installments in the series.

About Sebastian

Sebastian writes and talks about football of all eras in German and English. His series of Retro Match Reports focus on British, German and Italian football history. For YYFP he is currently working his way through the late '70s and early '80s. Follow Sebastian on Twitter: @maltacalcio.

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