It’s Copa del Rey time or to give the trophy its official title, it’s time for El Campeonato de España – Copa de Su Majestad el Rey de Fútbol (Championship of Spain – His Majesty the King’s Football Cup).
You know the one – the Catalunyan and Basque fans love their teams to be in the final just so that they can boo and whistle during the playing of Spain’s National Anthem – La Marcha Real (The King’s March). If the anthem had words, I’m sure that there would be some pretty impolite renditions sung in Català and Euskara.
There was some discussion about Spain’s National Anthem getting words, but the whole idea was mierda-mierda’d.
Click here to see the 10pm CET kick-off time converted to your timezone: Deportivo Alavés vs. FC Barcelona
Since late August, CdR elimination games have been taking place, with teams in lower divisions battling it out to emerge as next-round contenders to play the big guns from the Primera División. That starts today, when the remaining 32 teams meet, in Leg 1 of 2, to reduce down to 16 for the next round.
It’s a rather complicated system and, in this round of 32, the 7 Primera teams which qualified for European competitions get to meet the remaining 7 teams from Segunda B and the Tercera (3rd) Divisións. The 5 remaining Segunda División (Liga Adelante) teams will face 5 La Liga (Primera) teams. The 8 remaining La Liga (Primera) teams will face each other.
Still with me after that? Don’t worry about it. The draw for Champions League is complicated enough, without trying to comprehend the CdR draw. Let the RFEF work for its Euros.
All that matters is that a Segunda B team, from the Basque Country city of Vitoria, drew FC Barcelona as their next round rival in the Copa del Rey.
A Brief Club History
Over its 91 years, Alavés has spent 11 of them in the First Division. They’ve had a couple of notable coaches – Hungarian Ferenc Puskás coached the 1968/69 season, and Pepe Mel (currently with Real Betis) managed them over 2003/04.
The team’s most prolific Primera spell was 5 seasons from 1998–2003. In the 1999/2000 season, they beat FC Barcelona twice – home and away – and finished 6th overall which qualified them for the UEFA Cup.
Whoa! Beat FC Barcelona…twice? In one La Liga season? Indeed – with the scores 2-1 (at home) and 0-1 (at Camp Nou).
In the 2000/01 season, Alavés (knocking out Inter Milan and Rayo Vallecano), reached the final of the UEFA Cup to play Liverpool (who had ousted FC Barcelona). It was a match worthy of a final, with Alavés coming from behind to level the score at 4-4 in normal time.
This was the era in which Golden Goals decided matches, and extra time wasn’t kind to the Basque team. Two of their players were carded off the pitch. Reduced to 9 men and defending a Liverpool freekick, the incoming ball was headed into the goal by an Alavés player to give Liverpool the win. An own Golden Goal – how utterly tragic.
A notable player for them at the time was Jordi Cruyff, son of Johan. Little Jordi who had played for Barcelona B and the First Team before being unceremoniously shown the door after zijn vader was sacked. The baby was indeed thrown out with the bath water – picked up by the scruyff of his neck and tossed out.
After leaving Manchester United on a free transfer, Cruyff Jnr. joined Alavés for 3 seasons (2000–2003) and scored in the UEFA Cup Final against Liverpool. After Alavés was relegated back to Segunda in 2003, Jordi packed his bags for Espanyol.
You can watch Jordi and his team-mates playing Liverpool in the 2001 UEFA Cup Final in this 5 minute match summary:
Did you spot the baby-faced Steven Gerrard?
Copa del Rey Record
So, has Alavés ever met Barça in Copa del Rey matches? Why yes, yes it has – on 4 occasions since 1927. But it’s never done that well. You can check the results for yourself on the Barça website: Previous Cup Ties between Barça and Alavés
The best CdR result that the club has achieved was during the 1997/98 season, when Alavés ousted Real Madrid in the Round of 16 (agg. 2-2 and progressing on an Away goal). They defeated Depor (agg. 3-1) in the Quarter-Final, but lost to Mallorca (agg. 1-3) in the Semi-Final Round. FC Barcelona beat Mallorca to win the Copa del Rey that year.
What of Alavés today?
The club has been in Segunda B for the past 4 seasons. It’s a hugely competitive division with 81 teams split into 4 groups. Alavés currently sits atop their Group 2. They’ve won 8 games and lost 2; scored 14 goals and conceded 4, while earning 24 points so far. If they maintain a Top 4 Group placing at season’s end, the club will progress into the play-offs (16 teams vying for 2 places) to win promotion to Segunda B (a.k.a. La Liga Adelante).
Unfortunately for Alavés, the team has just lost one of its key players to injury. Earlier this month, Forward Rubén Negredo damaged his left ACL during a practice session and will be out for 6 months.
Suspended for tonight’s match are Defender Luciano and Forward Juanma. Advancement has come with a price.
The team will be counting on Mid-fielder Guzmán to lead the way. This season, he’s scored 4 goals in 9 games so far. Also look out for GK Miguel who was once a La Masia student, but was released from FCB at the age of 19 in 2000.
Tonight, the Mendizorrotza will be packed to its almost 20,000 capacity. The game is the hottest ticket in Vitoria which is the second-largest city in the Basque Country. A blue and white mosaic has been planned, and all fans have been encouraged to come dressed in club colours, as well as to purchase the special souvenir scarf that has been produced especially for the occasion. The partisan crowd will no doubt chant, sing and cheer their team as loudly and as long as they can, mixing in a bit of whistling and jeering in an effort to unsettle Barça.
The pitch condition remains to be seen, but it is grass and its size is 105m x 67m – only 1 meter narrower than Camp Nou and of the same length. Depending on how good the drainage system, it may still be slightly soft underfoot, given the amount of rain that has not remained mainly on the plain in Spain in recent weeks. The close proximity of the crowd to the playing area will be something which Barça will have to get used to in a hurry, if they are to remain focused on the job.
Tito has decided to rest 5 key players who will not even make the journey to Vitoria. Messi, VV, Xavi, Pedro and Alba will stay at home.
Only 2 B teamers – Oier (as back-up GK) and Sergi Roberto – will join Pinto, Alves, Montoya, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano, Busquets, Song, Dos Santos, Iniesta, Cesc, Alexis, Villa and Tello for the trip.
16 players required and 16 taken – no spares!
Why more Barcelona B Players aren’t playing
That Tito has not loaded up with Barça babies has been put down to how serious he is about a good result.
The REAL reason is that Barça B’s game vs. Huesca which should have been played on Oct 20th, was called off because the Huesca pitch resembled a lake more than a football field. The game has been rescheduled to be played tomorrow (31st Oct) which meant that Tito could not snatch more B team members from the cradle.
While the back line remains more of a mystery (and we now have choices!), I would expect to see Cesc, Busquets and Ini start in midfield and ahead of them will be Alexis, Villa and Tello. Pinto will be in goal, and maybe Alves will get the nod with Bartra, Mascherano and Adriano.
Or perhaps Tito will put out a 3-4-3 – Pinto, Montoya, Bartra, Adriano, Dos Santos, Song, Busi, Cesc, Alexis, Villa and Tello – and, if it all goes pie-eyed, the formation will morph and super-subs will come in to change the game around the 60th minute.
What’s your prediction for the score?