Monday, 17 December 2007

The forgotten Cup

It was the trophy the galácticos could not win. The Copa del Rey, the oldest football trophy in Spain, has seen its status increasingly devalued over the years. Whenit was originally conceived in 1902, it was the only national football competition; this remained the case until the creation of the league championship in 1928. Winning it now "merely" grants access to the UEFA cup, which is presumably why most top clubs, Real Madrid included, field an under-strength side until the semifinal stages. More recently, Michel Platini, now UEFA president, had to postpone his plans to persuade national federations to nominate cup winners for entry to the Champions League, a move which could have helped to revive ailing cup competitions around Europe.

More importantly, unlike the FA Cup in England, the rounds involving top flight sides are played over two legs, with the second leg always played at the home ground of the team in the higher division. This clearly tilts the balance in favour of the bigger clubs and diminishes the chances of an upset, one of the beauties of any cup competitions as opposed to the league championship, which rewards consistency.

None of the current members of the Real Madrid squad have ever won the Copa del Rey. You have to go back to the 26th June 1993, nearly 15 years ago, for the last time the club won this competition. The squad list for Real Madrid that night is like delving into the history books: Buyo, Chendo, Nando, Sanchis, Lasa, Míchel, Hierro, Milla, Villarroya, Butragueño, Alfonso. Ramis and Esnáider came on as substitutes in the second half and Butragueño and Lasa were the scorers in the 2-0 win against Zaragoza. Curiously, Real's starting eleven was composed exclusively of Spanish players, unthinkable these days (it was pretty rare even then). Only after Argentine Esnáider came on for Alfonso in the second half was the symmetry "broken".

Real have reached the final twice since that day. In 2002, the club somehow managed to persuade the federation to stage the final at the Bernabéu to celebrate Real's centenary. Deportivo played party poopers that night in the infamous centenariazo where they came off 2-1 winners. More recently, in 2004, a galáctico-laden side (including Roberto Carlos, Figo, Beckham and Zidane) lost out to revenge-fuelled Zaragoza after an extra-time winner put them 3-2 ahead. That 17th March game marked perhaps the beginning of the end for the galáctico era, as Real Madrid was up until then on course to win three competitions (they were leading the league championship and still in the Champions League) and ended up 4th in the league and knocked out of the CL by a Morientes-led Monaco a mere three weeks later.

On Wednesday, Real will play Alicante, a side who have never played in the top division and who have spent most of their 90-year history in the lowly Tercera División (actually the fourth tier of divisions in Spain). They currently play one step above that, so are expected to pose little trouble to Real's reserve side. But then again, it is the beauty of cup football that a "lesser" highly motivated side can always upset a more skillful side who does not take them or the competition seriously.


Anonymous said...

Good to see you back.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! It's been a busy few weeks and doubtless it'll get busy again, but I hope to continue posting for some time to come

Sanchopinky said...

Welcome back :D