For that dreamlike amount of time, the Chattanooga Football Club held a slim 1-0 lead over La Liga giant Real Betis. Joao Costa put CFC on the board with 12 minutes gone in the match, slipping past Betis’ front line on a looping pass before smashing the ball into the back of the net. Before 6,000 raucous Chattanooga supporters, the Scenic City’s semi-pro squad appeared en-route to a legendary upset.
Chattanooga was the second of two exhibition teams Real Betis was set to play in the United States. Betis had made history in their own Spanish season, as they had become the first La Liga (the name of the highest level of Spanish soccer) team since 2002-03 to defeat both Barcelona and Real Madrid in their respective home stadiums during the same season. Betis easily dispatched of their first opponent, DC United, in a breezy 5-2 rout on Tuesday.
But Saturday night, Chattanooga provided a much stiffer challenge than one of the MLS’ elite teams. After 45 minutes and stoppage time looming, CFC still held their one-goal lead over Betis. With the crowd in a frenzy and the team playing suffocating defense, a Chattanooga victory appeared possible. The Chattahooligans belted chant after chant, trying to push their blue-clad team to victory.
The dream of a Chattanooga upset ended in stoppage time though, as Real Betis’ Sergio Leon’s quick turn and strike from the middle of the field evened up the score. This goal seemed to wake up the lethargic Real Betis squad. They poured in three more goals in the second half, turning what was a close match into the lopsided win everyone expected.
Chattanooga wilted under the oppressive heat and the relentless pressure of the Betis defense, as their crisp passing attack disappeared for most of the second half. Betis controlled possession after halftime, picking Chattanooga apart with quick passes. Betis forward Jesse was the beneficiary of these passes, knocking in a pair of quick goals in the 67th and 78th minute. After 80 minutes, the score stood at Real Betis 4, CFC 1.
With the small contingent of Real Betis fans exulting in their apparent victory, the once deafening mass of CFC supporters were silent after the onslaught of Real Betis scores. But with the game most-certainly decided, Chattanooga’s football club gave their fans something to cheer about before the game was over.
Perhaps Betis relented after accruing their lead, or maybe Chattanooga finally found their composure. Regardless of what was the case, Chattanooga embarked on a furious rally with only 10 minutes left in the exhibition. With most of the starters subbed out on both teams, Chattanooga’s reserve striker Alun Webb was fouled in the box. He then calmly stood in the box and powered the ball past the Betis goalkeeper.
Chattanooga was not finished scoring though. In stoppage time, Chattanooga received one last free kick. After the initial strike was warded off, Chattanooga midfielder Zeca was able to secure the rebound and poke the ball past the keeper as time expired. In front of a delirious home crowd, his final goal made the game a highly respectable 4-3. As both teams walked off the pitch, the crowd gave their team one final standing ovation. The semi-pro team had scored more goals on Betis than MLS powerhouse DC United had a few nights before, a fact not lost on the crowd. If there ever was a night where a slight defeat felt like a overwhelming victory, this was the night.