Guest writer Neil Moran explains why romance is not dead in the Copa del Rey…..
With the recent trend of top sides putting out weakened teams for their domestic cups, an act claimed to be devaluing the competitions and taking away that cup magic, it could not be more different in Spain where last year’s Copa del Rey final was fiercely fought in Valencia’s Mestalla stadium by the giants of Spanish football Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Fuelled by Jose Mourinho’s desire to wrestle some trophies away from Pep Guardiola’s Barca, who it seems just want to win every prize put in front of them, it appeared a new found competitiveness had revitalised the Copa del Rey.
The eyes of the world fall on the Camp Nou tonight with the Catalans and Madrileños doing battle once more, this time in the second leg of their cup quarter final. But last night, over 500km up the road, in Miranda de Ebro, a city bordering on the wine-swilling La Rioja region, 6,000 locals were packed inside the Estadio de Anduva hoping to raise their glasses to one of Spanish footballs big giant-killing stories.
Third division Mirandes find themselves in the quarter finals having already knocked out La Liga rivals in the shape of Villareal and Racing Santander – not a bad run for a side that have never played higher than the third tier and just 15 years ago found themselves playing non-league football. A first leg 3-2 defeat against Mauricio Pochettino’s Espanyol gave them every chance of progression to the semi finals thanks to the two away goals they scored at Cornellà-El Prat, a feat that the mighty Barca could not achieve when dropping two points there in a League visit just a couple of week before.
As the supporters made their way to the stadium by the banks of the River Ebro they had reason to be optimistic, with an home record of 10 wins, two draws and just the one defeat they found themselves sitting as sole Leaders of their group with an healthy lead over second placed Ponferradina, a side whose big cup adventure came to an end two rounds ago in the Santiago Bernabeu, being swept away by Real Madrid 7-1 on aggregate. When Espanyol’s Portuguese striker Rui Fonte put them ahead shortly after the break to open up a two goal lead, the writing was on the wall as the visiting fans began to dream of an all Catalan final. Pablo Infante then gave the home side hope, leveling after 57 minutes with a Roy of the Rovers strike, but the final half hour was a long one with both sides coming close to scoring. Mirandes Coach Carlos Pouso had nothing to lose and threw the kitchen sink at their La Liga opposition and was rewarded when all had seemed lost.
With the game well in to injury time, journeyman centre half César Caneda headed home to make the tie 4-4 on aggregate, the two away goals giving the underdogs the advantage and sending their fans delirious. The full time whistle was greeted by looks of disbelief on the faces of the courageous heroes who were in turn greeted by the customary cup pitch invasion. The vino flowed into the early hours as the 40,000 residents of the city toasted their team as they continued their march in to the unknown.
The third division club find themselves in the cup semi final, an achievement only seen once before in Spanish football when in 2002, Figueres were beaten in the semi finals by Deportivo la Coruña, having already knocked out Barcelona on the way. Only the winners of Atletic Bilbao and Mallorca stand between Mirandes and a dream cup final against one of Spanish and European football’s big guns. 2012 looks like being a vintage year in this corner of the province of Burgos and who would bet against them pulling off another giant-killing? Long live His Majesty’s cup…
About the author: Neil Moran has been living in Madrid for over 7 years and finds himself in the thick of Spanish football, involved from the very top to the very bottom of the Spanish league pyramid. Neil does commentary work for Real Madrid TV as well as writing on the Atletico Madrid website. As a keen football coach he works with children in the city whilst managing FC Britanico de Madrid, the number one English speaking team in Spain who are currently playing Spain’s eight tier. @fcbritanico @neilmadrid @premierfutbol