Real Madrid defends Copa del Rey title at Cornella
MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid begins the defense of its Copa del Rey title this week with a visit to third-tier minnows Cornella.
Although Madrid will certainly rest some of its stars, Cornella has celebrated wildly what it is calling a “winning the lottery” first-round clash that will see its small-budget squad square up to a team whose value exceeds $1 billion.
The round of 32 — the first with top-division teams — begins Wednesday with just two games, brought forward because of Madrid’s commitment to participate in the FIFA Club World Cup event in Morocco in December.
The other standout matches include Sevilla away to third-division opponents Sabadell and Barcelona travelling to Huesca.
Here are some things to look out for in the competition:
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Eager to cash in on Madrid’s visit, Cornella has been granted the use of Espanyol’s 40,500 seater Power8 stadium, where ticket sales — priced between 20 and 50 euros ($25-$63) — exceeded 20,000 by early Tuesday. “What’s important here is for our club to emerge from this match with a cash advantage,” said coach Jordi Roger. Cornella has just 700 members, and although the club estimated that most relatives and friends will want to attend, “around 90 percent of the audience will be Madrid fans,” it said. Players include midfielder David Garcia — a dentist — defender Joel Marin — who works as a topographer — and midfielder Pep Caballe — who is an employee of the city of Barcelona’s bicycle sharing scheme.
All eyes were on Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground on Monday for clues as to who might play against Cornella. Coach Carlo Ancelotti gave Cristiano Ronaldo the day off after his team’s 3-1 victory against Barcelona, so the Portugal forward is likely to be rested. Others who did not train with the rest of the squad on the field but instead did exercises in the gym were Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric. Ancelotti had already said that captain Iker Casillas would be replaced in goal for Copa del Rey matches by substitute ’keeper Keylor Navas.
Sevilla is level with Barcelona at the top of the table after collecting 22 points from their opening nine matches in La Liga. The Andalusian club will be without midfielder Vicente Iborra who injured an ankle in the club’s 2-1 win against Villarreal on Sunday. Argentina goalkeeper Mariano Barbosa and midfielder Ever Banega could feature against Sabadell, who suffered a 1-0 loss away to Mallorca at the weekend.
Madrid faces a tough draw if they are to successfully defend its title, with possible matches against Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. Madrid would meet 2013 champion Atletico if both advance past their third-tier round of 32 opponents, and then last year’s runner-up Barcelona — with a record 26 cups — could await in the quarterfinals.
Barcelona’s opponent, Huesca has just over 2,000 members and its El Alcoraz stadium seats around 5,000 spectators. With an annual budget of 1.2 million euros ($1.5 million), its match against the Catalan powerhouse is also regarded as a bonanza. “It’s a great economic opportunity,” said club president Fernando Losfablos. “It’s a historical happening and a big prize.”
Meanwhile, Atletico faces a L’Hospitalet side that recruited 17 new players in the offseason, although it retains the services of coach Kiko Ramirez.