This week sees the final of the Spanish Cup competition, the Copa del Rey, taking place between Barcelona and Real Madrid in the neutral venue of Mestalla, the home of Valencia. Unlike the Spanish League, where Real lead, it is Barcelona who possess the most titles in this competition – they have 25, Athletic Bilbao from the north of the country have 23, while Real Madrid have 17. Remarkably, Madrid have also lost 19 times in the final and indeed have not won this trophy since 1993 – 18 years ago.
Since then, los blancos have lost two finals, including one in their home stadium against Deportivo La Coruña in 2002 but perhaps more significantly is the number of different clubs that have won this competition since then: nine. This ‘democratisation’ is in stark contrast to the dominance of the big two teams in the league. Indeed, the fact that Mallorca (2003); Zaragoza (2001 and 2004); Real Betis (2005); Sevilla (2007 and 2010) and RCD Espanyol (2001 and 2006) have all won the trophy in recent times may well be due to Real Madrid and Barcelona focusing more on la Liga and the Champions League than the domestic knock-out tournament. One name missing from that list is Athletic Bilbao who for the longest time were synonymous with Copa success – they have 23 victories to their name – but the Basque club have not won a title since 1984 though they did reach their first final for 24 years in the 2009 version which they lost 4-1 to Barcelona.
This year’s version is the first time for 21 years that the ‘big two’ will meet in the final – they have met 5 times previously in the final with Barcelona winning three and Real twice. There is added spice to this game as it comes before the two teams meet in the Champions League semi-finals next week and that in Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola the clubs have two managers who are not only winners but who also fully respectful of the cup. Choosing a winner in a one-off game is always fraught with danger but I am going for a Barcelona 2-1 victory that will earn the Catalan side their 26th cup triumph.
neutral venue: A place where neither side has home advantage
Unlike: Not similar to
Remarkably: Incredibly, interestingly (A nice way to begin a sentence with an opinion)
los blancos: Nickname for Real Madrid
in stark contrast to: Completely different to
were synonymous with: Connected closely to something (Bilbao had a great Cup history)
added spice: Something extra to make the game even more interesting
is always fraught with danger: Risky