Minnows dream as Spain’s beleaguered Cup returns
Spain’s lesser-known sides are dreaming of their day in the sun, but the return of holders Barcelona and 18 other La Liga sides to the Copa del Rey this week has a familiar flat feel. Unlike England’s FA Cup, Spain’s knockout competition is a two-legged affair until the final and seeded in the early rounds. Whilst that secures a glamour tie and some much needed cash for those lowest down the pyramid lucky enough to make it to the last 32, upsets are few and far between.
“We don’t have competition in the Cup,” La Liga president Javier Tebas has argued and admits reforms to the competition will be studied after a new three-year television deal runs out. Barcelona haven’t been eliminated by anyone other than Real Madrid in six seasons. Yet, despite that record, even Barca boss Luis Enrique is in favour of a change to the rules. “I would like a one-off game in all ties of the Copa del Rey,” he said last season.
The record 28-time Cup winners begin their defence at Hercules of the third tier. However, with a hugely important league meeting with Madrid to come in La Liga on Saturday, the fans in Alicante are unlikely to catch a glimpse of the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez or Neymar.
Hercules won on their last visit to the Camp Nou, shocking Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barca side 2-0 in 2010.
But they have since tumbled down the league ladder since with two relegations in four years. “It is a great joy, especially for the fans that have suffered a lot in recent years,” said Hercules captain Paco Pena.
The financially-stricken Hercules also hope to make 600,000 euros ($635,000) through gate receipts and TV money from the tie.
Real Madrid are already well on their way to the last 16 as they host Cultural Leonesa at the Santiago Bernabeu tomorrow boasting a 7-1 lead from the first leg.
Zinedine Zidane is expected to reserve all of his star names with the Clasico in mind, but Brazilian midfielder Casemiro could come into contention for the Camp Nou clash as he will start for the first time in two months after recovering from a broken leg.
Guijelo will be dressed to impress as they seek to shock Atletico Madrid. The municipality in the Salamanca province is famous for its Iberian ham and Guijelo will don a special shirt divided into Atletico’s famous red and white strips and strips of ham.
Meanwhile, Sevilla will have to catch a boat from Ibiza for their clash with Formentera, an island better known in football circles as a favoured holiday destination for Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. — AFP