5 things to know about the Copa del Rey
MADRID (AP) — The Copa del Rey has a rare weekend schedule in order for the smaller clubs to attract larger crowds over this holiday weekend in Spain.
The minnow clubs meet heavyweights as the Spanish league’s topflight teams enter the domestic cup’s round of 32.
Atletico Madrid, which snapped a 14-year winless run against city rival Real Madrid to lift the trophy in May, opens against third-tier Sant Andreu. Madrid and Barcelona also play lower-tier clubs in Olimpic Xativa and Cartagena, respectively.
Here are five things to know about the weekend’s Copa del Rey games:
PLEASED TO MEET YOU: Atletico president Enrique Cerezo doesn’t know much about his team’s opponent, Sant Andreu. So the Barcelona-based club decided to educate Cerezo, and his team, in the form of a video message imploring the team’s values of selflessness and humility. “You’ll know what we’re about,” said midfielder Quim Arojo, who confessed to being a lifelong Atletico fan in the video message. “Sometimes, dreams do come true.”
Atletico warmed up for Saturday’s match at the 6,563-capacity Narcis Sala Stadium, which sits in the suburbs of the Catalan capital, by beating Indonesian club Mitra Kukar 5-0 in a friendly at the club’s training ground.
Atletico is joint-top of the Spanish league alongside Barcelona.
REAL CONFIDENT: Real Madrid’s opponent has just 755 club members, annual expenses of 580,000 euros ($790,000), and lies sixth in Segunda B, Spain’s third tier. Yet Olimpic Xativa is apparently confident of beating the Spanish giant at its La Murtra Stadium on Saturday.
Olimpic, which lost out to promotion to the second division on the final day of last season, is unbeaten in seven games. The good run has increased coach Antonio Aparicio’s confidence, as he was quoted as saying “we will beat Real Madrid.”
Olimpic is geared up for Madrid’s visit which will not include Cristiano Ronaldo because of suspension. The suburban Valencian club has nearly doubled the capacity of its La Murta Stadium, and club workers were putting the finishing touches on a general cleanup as they painted railings, adjusted locker room stalls, and cleaned up the area around the benches in anticipation of the nine-time European champion’s visit.
DON’T BRING ON THE WATERBOY: Third-tier Cartagena couldn’t have asked for a better time to draw Barcelona, which is experiencing its first slump of the season. Beating them over two legs will be quite another story. Cartagena official Cristina Bustillo qualified her club’s draw of the Spanish champion akin “to winning the lottery.”
“Barcelona instills fear from the president right down to the kit man,” Bustillo said. “We’re a hardworking team. I’m sure we’re not going out there looking at it like a walk in the park.”
Barcelona is monitoring the health of midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, while Lionel Messi is injured. Cartagena is third in its division following a 3-1 win over San Fernando.
AVOIDING THE “ALCORCONAZO”: Many feel Manuel Pellegrini’s short tenure as Real Madrid coach was effectively sealed with an embarrassing Copa del Rey loss that has become part of the football lexicon in Spain.
A 4-0 loss at third-tier Alcorcon to open the round of 32 was such an embarrassment that the term “Alcorconazo” has become a staple of the Spanish football dictionary. The major clubs will all be looking to avoid such a fate, especially Barcelona as it goes into Friday’s game at Cartagena on the heels of a two-game losing streak.
“This will be a good opportunity to play a good game, to try and pick up a win and lift our morale,” Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said. Barcelona knows about collapses, too. In 2006-07, the Catalan side squandered a 5-2 lead in the return at Getafe, which knocked the league and European champion out at the semifinal stage with an overwhelming 4-0 win at home.
ALL 16 GAMES: All 20 first division teams will enter the competition at this stage, with there being five from the second division and seven from the third-tier remaining.
There are four matchups between topflight teams: Valladolid vs. Rayo Vallecano; Villarreal vs. Elche; Malaga vs. Osasuna; and Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao.
The first legs are being played this weekend, with the returns scheduled on and around Dec. 18: Lleida vs. Real Betis; Algeciras vs. Real Sociedad; Racing Santander vs. Sevilla; Valladolid vs. Rayo Vallecano; Girona vs. Getafe; Recreativo Huelva vs. Levante; Alcorcon vs. Granada; Gimnastic vs. Valencia; Las Palmas vs. Almeria; and Real Jaen vs. Espanyol.
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