Copa del Rey Preview: Athletic – Barça, Wednesday
2pmEST 4pmEST, ESPNDeportes/ESPN3.com
You want to talk cathedrals? I’ve been to a lot of them. Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica? Check. Notre Dame? Yup. St. Patrick’s? Been there, done that. I might as well have been born in a front pack, given how much time I spent in one during my pre-walking days and given that my parents insisted on entering every church they saw throughout our many travels, I basically grew up with stained glass as my playmates. What I’m saying is: I know a cathedral when I see one. And San Mamés is a cathedral. Not just because it’s called La Catedral–though that does play a part–but rather because it’s where we should all end up eventually, if just once, to see a match. It was built in 1913, after all, and is an integral part of the Bilboner landscape. I dearly wish to find myself wandering/stumbling around that enchanted land, pintxos in one hand and a zahato in the other.
No doubt Carles Puyol does this same homage each year, except he probably also wears the skin of a fully grown bull he has just flayed during a corrida. Imagine being some pleasantly tipsy Basque taking the scenic route home through your foggy town and running into that. Makes me shiver for them.
Puyol has another chance to scare very nice people into straight jackets as Barça return to Bilbao for a Copa del Rey date with Athletic. And what a game it should be, with a loss of any sort putting us squarely out of the competition. The squad also has a completely new face in it as Ibrahim Afellay is included for the first time, having been unavailable against Levante. He won’t get the start, but he might make an appearance, which would be pretty cool. Gabi Milito, our want away defender (and who can blame him with the 279 minutes he’s played in all competitions this year?), is also in the squad, but as with Afellay, I don’t expect him to get the start.
Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Adriano, Puyol, Piqué, Milito, Abidal, Busquets, Mascherano, Thiago, Xavi, Iniesta, Keita, Afellay, Jeffren, Bojan, Messi, Villa, Pedro.
I’m expecting our best 11 to be out there from the beginning and I’m also expecting it to be a rip roaring match from start to finish. If there’s a 0-0 draw, we go to extra time and then penalties. If Barça wins or there’s a draw including goals (1-1, 2-2, etc), Barça qualifies. If Athletic wins, Athletic moves on. Pretty simple stuff, really. They’ll probably start with 10 behind the ball and if they score on a counter, they’ll definitely sit back and just lump the ball out. A goal for us, however, means they have to come out and really play, so expect us to attack like crazy from the get-go. Think the first few minutes of Arsenal at the Emirates last year.
It’s either going to be very good natured or Total War, William Tecumseh Sherman style. Kick first and simply never ask questions. Also don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes. Wait, no, that was something else. Okay, so it was “I shall return!”…no, no, that’s not it either. Must have been “I can’t let you do that, Dave.” Yes, that’s it.
Official Prediction: 0-2, goals by Messi. Afellay subs on for the final 5 minutes and does some little jinkityjinkjink moves on the sideline and is rewarded by a vicious studs up slash. Welcome to Spain, good sir.