Nosa Igiebor was on his last chance and so was his team. It was the 89th minute of an insane Seville derby when the ball somehow squirmed over the bar from barely a yard, the final dramatic opportunity seemingly lost only to offer up one more. From 3-0 down Real Betis had taken it to 3-2. Now they had a corner. Taken short, Dorlan Pabón curled it into the area and a figure burst on to the scene on the far side of the box, rising among the bodies. The header went down, the ball came back up. Off the turf and into the net; 90 minutes, 3-3. The Benito Villamarín went mad, redemption and revenge, bodies piling in, Nosa emerging with his arms in the air.
Of all the people, it had to be him. Unloved, unwanted, unlikely to stay, he had completed a historic comeback; the first time Sevilla had ever lost a three-goal lead in the first division and against their greatest rivals too. Betis had waited a long time for this and almost as long for him. Most of them had given up waiting and just wanted him out. At €1.2m, Betis' most expensive signing this summer, he had played only nine times in the league by January, making three starts, and although his record read played nine won eight, few saw a meaningful contribution. Worse still, he then went off to the Africa Cup of Nations.
It was not so much that he went to the Africa Cup of Nations that irritated them so much as the fact that he didn't come back. It took Nosa almost a month to return following Nigeria's success. He said he had passport problems at Frankfurt airport on the way back but they weren't buying it. Betis handed him the biggest fine the club's regulations would allow, 15% of his wages, almost €30,000, but many fans thought it was not enough. Some turned their back, demanding the club got rid of him, and there were whistles and boos when he did play, which was not often. Since his return, Nosa had made only three appearances: 90 minutes against Granada, nine against Valencia and five against Getafe.
His season was drifting to an end, his career at Betis too. Late and unlamented, soon to be gone. This time he got eight minutes. And this time it was enough. There was still one moment waiting for him, what AS's match reporter José Antonio Espina described as his Gollum moment. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf notes of Gollum: "My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or evil, before the end."
Turns out it was both. This was a Seville derby the way it was supposed to be: loud, dramatic and controversial, played out in front of ticker tape and banners on the eve of the city's most important festival, the April Feria. A game that Marca called "extreme", AS called "epic", El País called "frenetic" and the Betis coach, Pepe Mel, called "the milk". Brilliant, in other words. Which might sound a bit weird, but let's face it, it's no more weird than taking a terrier's testicles to be the true test of terrific. A game with six goals, six yellow cards, one red card … and three middle fingers.
When these two sides met earlier in the season, it proved to be José Antonio Reyes's night. Sevilla were a goal up within a minute and won 5-1. In the aftermath of that derby, though, Sevilla lost five in seven while Betis won five in seven and, as they came into this weekend's clash, Betis were six points clear, a European place likely, a Champions League place possible. Meanwhile, Sevilla's season was drifting into a now sadly familiar pattern of mediocrity, especially away. They had won only once on the road all season and that was back in September.
Still, Sevilla have lost only three times in over 20 years at Betis and it took them only six minutes to take the lead when Adrián obligingly dived out the way for Ivan Rakitic to score cleverly at the near post. After 19 minutes, Javi Chico cut out the ball to an offside Alvaro Negredo only to accidentally pass to Rakitic, who got married three days before, to score his second. Two gifts, two goals. And just after the half hour, Reyes provided a gorgeous pass to Negredo to make it 3-0. Some Betis fans made for the exit.
But then, with a little help from the referee, Carlos del Cerro Grande, it was Sevilla's turn to self-destruct. Led, inevitably, by the man who was born with a pair of pliers and a dilemma. Red wire or blue?
Just before half-time, Gary Medel's pass hit Dorlan Pabón, who was left with a one-on-one with the keeper before clipping in a neat finish – his fifth goal since joining in the winter. Four minutes into the second half, Betis were given a penalty for a basketball screen on Jorge Molina by Federico Fazio, which Rubén Castro scored to make it a goal each for him and Negredo, the top-scoring Spaniards in La Liga. Then five minutes after that, a flying tackle and Medel confronted Molina. To call it right in front of the referee would be an understatement: Medel had to lean round him to confront his opponent. Which was when José Alberto Cañas came steaming in to shove him. Medel pushed him back – hand open, in the face. And a few weeks later, Cañas reeled, hitting the deck with a drum roll and a cymbal crash.
Medel was sent off, the fundamental player/liability balance tipped back towards the latter. It might have been a bit unlucky, a trap laid maliciously, the acting laid thickly, and Jesús Navas may have been justified when he complained that "every decision went against us," but it was also Medel's seventh red card in 89 games since joining Sevilla. And it left his side with 10 men, the clock ticking down. Sevilla held out for 36 more minutes. But in the 90th minute, Nosa finally arrived, crashing in the equaliser.
Some fans were not impressed. When Sevilla's players returned to the Sánchez Pizjuán to pick up their cars late on Friday night, a group of fans were waiting for them. Some shouted at Fazio to "put his bollocks into it". Fazio got out of his car, swore at them and a fight ensued that ended with the 6ft 4in centre-back on the floor. "Apparently Fazio has suffered two right good punches," commented one of the leaders of Sevilla's Biris Ultras group, the author of a recent book on his experiences, which include giving the pre-match team-talk before one Seville derby. "I energetically condemn that," he continued. "It should have been six."
They were not the only ones confronting their enemies. When the goal went in, Mel let go and thrust his arms in the air, middle finger outstretched in an up yours. "It wasn't aimed at the Sevilla fans, I respect them. I'm not going to say who it was aimed at but the person it was aimed at knows," he said afterwards. "If my dad wants to give someone the up yours all I can say is olé, olé and olé," added his daughter.
As for Nosa, he was going one better. No ambiguity here, no doubts. Just something childishly amusing about hearing Spanish TV presenters swearing in English like an X-rated Julio Geordio. Racing behind the goal, the Nigerian celebrated his first and probably his last ever goal for Betis. A dramatic late equaliser in the biggest game in the city, one of the biggest in Spain. They'd waited a long time for him and he'd waited a long time for this. Running to the home fans, he raised both index fingers and let out a shout that summed it up:
• Another mad game, another 3-3 draw, another dramatic last-minute equaliser. In fact, this one was even later. Espanyol-Valencia was 1-1 with eight minutes to go when Joan Verdú scored what appeared to be the winner for Espanyol in the 82nd minute. But in the 84th Jonas made it 2-2. In the 91st Roberto Soldado made it 3-2 to Valencia. And in the 93rd, Sergio García got the equaliser from a desperate punt up the pitch. This was a Hail Mary that paid off. A hoof, a touch, a bounce, a defender ducking (and whatever happened to Víctor Ruíz?) and García smashed it in with the last touch. No time even to take the restart.
• Atlético Madrid's celebrations have a nasty habit of going horribly wrong. It doesn't matter that their Kids' Days are deliberately chosen to coincide with theoretically weak opponents (and weak-ish attendances), they tend to end up with dire defeats and another generation of children seeking solace on the other side of the city. This time, though, it worked a treat. This time, there were balloons and face paints and sunshine and human table football games and 9,881 kids at the Calderón. Most of all, there were five goals. And Oliver Torres. Even Diego Costa managed to behave himself for the occasion.
• Bloody hell, Deportivo may actually do it. For the first time in their entire history, they won a fourth top-flight game on the trot, scoring three or more goals each time. The victims this time were Levante – and don't rule out JIM's team getting dragged momentarily into trouble – who were hammered 4-0. Juan Carlos Valerón may be ancient and he may be slow but he is still class. He scored one and made two. Depor are now out of the relegation zone, two points ahead of 18th-placed Zaragoza. Better still for Fernando Vázquez's miracle-working team, Zaragoza, Granada and Celta look dire and Mallorca's momentum has been lost. (Monday night is a big one: Mallorca-Celta, bottom versus second bottom.)
• Spectacular. Real Sociedad took almost 4,000 fans to Rayo on Sunday morning. Vallecas was packed; this columnist, certainly, can't remember as many visiting fans there and they made a hell of a noise all the way through. At one point, the two sets of fans sent songs back and forth between them. At the end, Real's fans chanted Rayo's names. In the meantime, their team put them to the sword with two early goals that prompted Paco Jémez to make two substitutions only 16 minutes in. "I would have changed seven if I could," he said afterwards. As for la Real, they are a properly good side: this was an eighth win in a 13-match unbeaten run. They have now been beaten only once in 21 matches. That Champions League place looks increasingly secure.
• After the pain, the accusations and the recriminations came the love and the recognition. And a goal that was more than just a goal, scored by Júlio Baptista. Málaga's fans welcomed their players back to the Rosaleda as heroes after their Champions League exit in Dortmund and they did so with smoke bombs, applause and a sensational atmosphere. One that Málaga's players and staff deserve, one that even their owner's cynicism and delirium can't destroy. Especially moving was the minute's silence for Manuel Pellegrini's father who passed away last week.
• What about those two?
Results: Betis 3-3 Sevilla, Valladolid 2-1 Getafe, Levante 0-4 Deportivo, Espanyol 3-3 Valencia, Málaga 1-0 Osasuna, Rayo 0-2 Real Sociedad, Atlético 5-0 Granada, Zaragoza 0-3 Barcelona, Athletic 0-3 Real Madrid. Monday: Mallorca-Celta.