Better late than never for ageless Palop
May 17, 2007 - 12:15:10 PM
Glasgow, May 17 - It is a commonplace in football that the best years of a goalkeeper come after 30.
This is the point being proved to the whole world right now by Andres Palop, goalkeeping hero of two-time UEFA Cup winners Sevilla.
Palop's moment of glory in Glasgow Wednesday - saving three Espanyol penalties in the shootout - was seen across the planet.
It was the second time that he had been the hero for his side in the UEFA Cup as he had earlier scored the all-important equalizer in the round of the last 16.
Indeed, he seemed accustomed to the limelight as reporters crowded around him after his Hampden Park heroics, eager to find out his penalty secrets.
Palop, 33, was modest enough to compare a penalty shootout to 'a lottery' and to admit that he had been 'very lucky'.
'I want to savour this success for a good while, because it has taken me so long to reach these heights,' he added.
Indeed it has. Palop's current success is the result of many years of hard work in the shadows - and on the subs' bench.
Until 2005 he was hardly known to the world. He was considered an ageing keeper the wrong side of 30 who had spent too many years as understudy. Only since joining Sevilla two years ago has his career finally taken off.
Palop's mistake, he admits now, was to stay too long at hometown club Valencia.
He joined Valencia as a 15 year-old back in 1989 and made his way slowly but steadily through the ranks. He made his first-team debut in 1996 but was definitively cast back into the shadows when Valencia signed on World Cup keeper Santiago Canizares from Real Madrid in 1998.
Palop was sent off on loan to Villarreal for a season, but then insisted on coming back to Mestalla, where he would be understudy to Canizares for six long years.
During that time, he picked up two 'Liga' title medals and two Champions League runners-up medals, though he hardly got off the bench.
In 2005, with Canizares looking stronger than ever, Palop finally decided that enough was enough...and signed for Sevilla, at the age of 31.
Since then, his career has belatedly blossomed. Last season he helped Sevilla to win their first UEFA Cup.
Palop started this season by keeping Barcelona at bay in August's 3-0 European Super Cup triumph. He has played a crucial role in the second UEFA success, and not just because of his Glasgow shootout saves.
In the round of the last 16 away to Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla were losing 2-1 with just two minutes left and seemed to be on their way out.
Palop left his goal and charged forward for a last-gasp corner -and saved his side by heading in the equalizer.
Sevilla won 3-2 in extra-time and Palop was on his way to a second UEFA triumph, at the ripe old age of 33.
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