Spain’s beautiful, unpredictable Copa del Rey deserves love


It’s an unabashed love letter to Spain’s Copa del Rey which kicks into gear this week with the Round of 32 and which if not for you and I’m sending it something. loveSubconsciously the media will be stigmatized with stock phrases such as “embarrassing,” “squad rotation,” “cold, inhospitable stadium” and “embarrassing elimination.”

The truth is that the Copa is a glittering, exciting, beautiful shock-fest of competition that, like delicate flowers and buds on trees, awakens itself every year around this time, determined to carry us through the brutal winter and into spring.

Real Madrid And Barcelona Play this week — everyone is going away from home against smaller, poorer, third division opposition, who are praying the big boys don’t have the sharp teeth to go with the snarl. But this column is definitely not a tribute to David slaying Goliath or princesses crushing little boys. Absolutely not.

This fantastic knockout competition has seen 11 different winners over the past 20 years. The English FA Cup, for all its hoopla and determined cheerleaders, has to go back 34 years to have the same number of individual champions. In fact, since 2002, 16 different clubs have reached the Copa del Rey final held in nine different stadiums across Spain. That grand final was attended by more than 1.2 million fans who were thrilled by 66 goals in the showpiece event (an average of three goals per game.) Now that’s entertainment!

Stream on ESPN+: Copa del Rey, La Liga, more (US)

What? you don’t remember MallorcaZaragoza and Espanyol The Kings won the Cup and their captains (Miguel Angel Nadal, Luis Cuartero and Raul Tamudo) hoisted this 33-pound, 2½-foot megatrophy? or recreativo, health, Getafe And Alaves muscle their way to the final but lose?

In a theme of diversity and constant surprise, 17 different managers have won the Copa over the past 20 years, with only one coach, Luis Enrique Martínez, winning it consecutively (Barcelona, ​​2015-2017). Two decades just another man, Ronald KoemanEven won the Copa del Rey twice as a manager (Valencia 2007; Barcelona 2021.)

Popping champagne (or cava) corks after a victorious final burst through goals from a star cast list including David Villa, Tamudo, Samuel Eto’o. cristiano ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Jesus NavasAndres Iniesta, Borja Iglesias, Michael Warzabal, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Diego Tristan, Freddy Canute, Xavi, Juan Mata and Fernando Morientes. What a roll call of talent.

We live in an age when some are weary of “superclubs” spending exorbitant amounts of money and thus narrowing the breadth of who will win domestic titles in England, Germany, Spain, France or Italy. So is the Champions League. By comparison, Spain’s knockout competition refused to toe the line. It’s the rebel trophy. “Catch me if you can … pick me up if you dare” seems to taunt La Liga clubs every season.

the game


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For a moment, I’ll fill in for those whose eyes dot the big two. Real Madrid travel three hours west to face third-division club Polideportivo Casereno on Tuesday. (Stream live on ESPN+ at 3 pm ET in the US) Cáceres’ Minora have never been in more Copas in their history and they play in the 7,000 capacity oddity of a stadium named after the current king (handy for the Copa del Rey) and featuring beautiful stained glass windows. Behind its stand alone.

Despite heavy defeats to Alcorcon, Leganes and Real Union de Irun in the last 20 years in this amazing knockout tournament, the whites The rest are stars Thibaut Courtois, Ferland Mendy, Dani Carvajal, Praise David, Luke Modric, Toni Kroos, Vinicius And Karim Benzema Home for rest. Totally understandable from Carlo Ancelotti. Perhaps even inevitable given the brutal calendar. But always, always a risk in this competition.

On Wednesday, Barcelona play a club in a small (population 23,000) suburb of the southeastern city of Alicante. (Stream live on ESPN+ at 3 pm ET in the US). CF Intercity, a small third division outfit with a stadium capacity of 2,500, have only existed in this form since 2017 and this is their second season in the Copa del Rey. (The tie itself is being held at the Rico Perez Stadium in Hercules in downtown Alicante.)

Just imagine the delicious thrill for this club, their fans, local residents. Attention, glamour, income and no matter how much one tries to ignore it, the “what if?” And from “What if?” “Who knows?”

Perhaps, Real Madrid’s completely mixed relationship with the competition in modern times is a large part of what makes the Copa del Rey so open, so enticing to clubs who often feel bruised and scared. the whites In full flow?

When the final ends on May 6, it will be nine years since Madrid last lifted the trophy. Right now, we’re in a spell where Spain’s most successful club have won the knockout competition just three times in 30 years since beating Zaragoza 2-0 in Valencia in 1993. Such as the Madrid imitator club Manchester Unitedbarcelona, celticAjax and Bayern Munich In winning the fabled treble of League, FA Cup and Champions League.

The thing is almost equally spectacular whether Madrid win or lose. Just think about Ronaldo Gravity-defying headers at Mestalla in 2011 Beating Pep Guardiola’s Barca (and denying them a treble). Or the peach that Gareth Bale scored late on in another Classico Finally, three years later, when his unprecedented, bowed head, ‘I-won’t-stay’ runs from off the pitchnearby Mark Bartra — then apparently twice around the stadium and through the car park — saw him net past goalkeeper Jose Pinto. Historic glory every time.

But unlike, for example, the only Copa del Rey final Galactico The era when, in 2004, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Luis Figo, Michel Salgado, Guti and Co. lost to promoted Zaragoza at Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium. Roberto Carlos and David Beckham both scored world-class free kicks that night, so far they were almost in another postal code, but the team lost 3-2 against a 10-man Zaragoza inspired by the flamboyant 22-year-old striker. David Villa says.

or 2002 century — Madrid’s 100th birthday, on the exact day — final against Deportivo La Coruna at the Santiago Bernabeu. It was supposed to be a rally, against a side that had won just twice in 60 years. the whites‘ Headquarters. Former Deportivo man Flavio Conceicao was also in the Madrid squad that night and in the pre-match game on the pitch, invited several of his former teammates to banquets and nightclubs that had already been booked and paid for in anticipation of a mega-celebration. Both Copa wins and club centenaries.

Depor, rightly angry and motivated, won 2-1 and thousands of their fans sarcastically sang “Happy Birthday to you” long before the final whistle ended Madrid’s misery. Fair play though: the whites Sent their on-ice supply of champagne to the winners’ dressing room. class

So many highlights; many stories

Zaragoza previously beat Barcelona (5-4) and Madrid (6-5) on aggregate in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, losing 4-1 to Espanyol in 2004. Sergio Ramos Dropping the cup during Madrid’s victory parade in 2011 and See the double-decker bus disappear under the front wheels. Marcelino not only led Valencia to the Champions League with their league performance but also tormented Barcelona in a 2-1 Copa victory in 2017 — only with a dismissal to thank CheIts ungrateful owner. In 2013, Atleti somehow ended a 26-match, 14-year curse with a 2-1 win over Madrid, in which both Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho were sent off, referee Klaus Gómez showed 17 cards and the mattress The fans chanted: “Jose must stay!” He didn’t.

Only managed in the Copa del Rey real society First Basque victory Derby final (vs Athletic Club) for 112 years and watch their coach, also a staunch fan of the club, take off his sports jacket at the post-match press conference to pull on an old-fashioned La Real strip, lift a scarf over his head and shout white-blue Chanting until her voice cracked.

Because both La Real and Athletic wanted to beat the COVID-19 pandemic and have fans at the event (a lost cause) they pushed back the 2020 final by a year, meaning the 2021 showpiece final took place exactly two weeks later. means extra schadenfreude Delight for Real Sociedad fans, while their side failed to retain the trophy, opponents Athletic lost their second final in 14 days, this time 4-0 to Barcelona. Just a cuppa, I tell you.

Spain, like other elite nations, is going to soak in football from now until June. The Supercopa, the Club World Cup, the Champions League, the Europa League, international matches under a new coach, and more than La Liga games you can throw your stick at. But please, I beg you: blow a kiss and keep a special place in your heart for this country’s ideal, unpredictable, thrilling, loving Copa del Rey. It will love you back.


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