Why Real Betis Has Been La Liga's Surprise Hit This Season

Lucas RadicellaCorrespondent IIFebruary 11, 2013

SEVILLE, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 24: Nosa Iglebor (#20) and Salvador Agra of Real Betis Balompie celebrate after Betis beat Real 1-0 during the La Liga match between Real Betis Balompie and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Benito Villamarin on November 24, 2012 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Real Betis started the 23rd round of La Liga in fifth position, just one point off the last qualification spot for next season’s Champions League.

Malaga, the team in that much-coveted fourth position, are currently banned from the next European competition they qualify for, meaning this season fifth may be enough to qualify for the UCL. All this means that the prospect of premium European football at the Villamarin is a distinct possibility. 

Many would feel it would only be justice for one of the oldest teams in Spain, founded in Sevilla over a century ago, and that in its full name, Real Betis Balompié, still includes the historic Spanish term for football.

Perhaps more impressively, they are still in that position after a short run of poor results that includes defeats in their last two games to Madrid clubs Atlético and Rayo Vallecano.

However their most famous achievement of this season also came against a club from the capital. In November, they inflicted the third defeat of the season on the league champions, Real Madrid.

The Beticos are no strangers to upsets; their most famous of recent times came in the 2008 when they came back from two goals down to beat Catalan giants FC Barcelona.

They are led by coach Pepe Mel, a former striker for the club formed in Madrid's youth academy. Betis counts on a mix of experienced talent like Ruben Castro and young stars of the likes of Beñat Etxebarria. The latter, a talented creative midfielder, has already been linked to major clubs across the continent (via Goal.com).

Perhaps what makes Betis so special is that on top of the cold reality of points gathered and table standings, their style of football that has attracted widespread praise. With one of the most lively fans in the country backing them week in and week out, they have been playing an attractive form of offensive football under Mel.

Mel had joined Betis a year after they were relegated from the first division in 2009 and took them back to the top tier of Spanish football in his first season in charge.

However even in the second division, their free-flowing and attack-minded ethos was part of their identity. It was first displayed on the global stage in their King’s Cup quarterfinal against Barcelona in the 2010-2011 season.

Having been crushed by the Blaugrana 5-0 in Barcelona, Betis had little hopes of progressing when the Catalans travelled to Sevilla for the return leg. However, Betis ended up beating Barcelona 3-1 and, although they did not progress, they outplayed a Barcelona side that had been undefeated in their last 28 matches.

They went on to top the second division that season and in their first season back in the top tier, they finished 13th. However they started their second season with a bang, putting five goals past Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao. They went on to have a good season and were capable of reacting after a painful 5-0 defeat to archrivals Sevilla with a good run of results.

After the cup quarterfinal in 2011, Pep Guardiola had said:

When we analysed our opponent, we knew it was going to be a tough tie. We knew full well that we’d have trouble, and that was the case. I want to congratulate Betis, a historic team that has always played good football, and who have top quality players (via TotalBarca).

As in so many cases, Guardiola’s analysis has been proved right, and perhaps he will be one of the few who are not surprised to see Betis playing such a prominent role in this year’s battle for Europe.