Real claim victory over Eta in Spain's shortest contest

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The Independent Online

Spanish footballers, whose match was spectacularly disrupted three weeks ago by a terrorist bomb scare, concluded their final seven minutes of play yesterday in a dramatic demonstration of how Spaniards mould their life around recurring threats of terror.

The match, between Real Sociedad and Real Madrid, had to be abandoned last month because of an Eta bomb scare just three minutes before time. Players, fans and officials were forced to clear the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on 12 December after police received a warning that a bomb was to explode at the ground. The warning turned out to be a hoax.

But as Basque Eta separatists had set off a chain of bombs across Spain just a week before as part of their pre-Christmas terror campaign, there was real fear that the stadium filled with fans could have been a target.

Eta has targeted the ground before. In May 2002, the organisation planted a huge car bomb in a tower block opposite Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium just hours before a major European match between Real and Barcelona. That blast caused extensive damage. Flying glass and shrapnel injured fans from both teams who thronged the area in anticipation of the Champions' League semi-final, and prompted panic in the crowd.

At last month's match, however, fans dispersed swiftly and without fuss, once they had been alerted, in an operation noted for its calm and efficiency. Perhaps there were more than usual numbers of police at yesterday's resumed match, but observers said that was probably to control a massive epiphany procession of Three Kings entering the capital on the eve of a national holiday as the match kicked off.

Yesterday's encounter, one of the briefest, most explosive face-offs in football history, produced a victory for Madrid that boosted the city and helped lift the shadow of terrorist tragedy which has engulfed it since the Atocha train bombings of 11 March. For months the city's inhabitants have been traumatised by the aftermath of an attack that killed 191 and wounded thousands.

Yesterday's mini-match provided a burst of pure joy. Four minutes in, Zinedine Zidane converted a penalty into a winning goal and three minutes later it was over. Real Madrid, like its home city downcast and anxious for months, celebrated as if they were world champions.

The match marked a triumphant debut for Real Madrid's new Brazilian coach Wanderlei Luxemburgo, appointed just last week, who becomes the golden hero and great hope of a club long in the doldrums. Real, third in the league, nine points behind Barcelona, approach Sunday's derby with Atletico Madrid with renewed predatory relish.

Fans barely settled into their seats before players hit their stride as if from a shotgun. Supporters moved forward to front rows, since seats were not allocated for this unusual match. Real Madrid's mighty stadium was barely a third full, but the fans' victory roar after the fourth minute left no doubt of their enthusiasm, or their restored spirits as holiday festivities dispelled dark memories.