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The year of two Copa del Rey finals: Athletic Bilbao loses first, but has second chance against FC Barcelona

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These are unusual times for the Copa del Rey (King’s Cup), which is Spanish football’s leading knockout competition.

And in years to come the Copa del Rey final circa 2021 is likely to provide plenty of football quiz questions.

On Saturday, Real Sociedad won the 2020 Copa del Rey final, beating Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao 1-0. The Basque Country is in northern Spain.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 final had been delayed in the hope fans might be able to attend. That proved impossible and Saturday’s showpiece was contested at Seville’s La Cartuja stadium without fans.

In a generally disappointing game, Sociedad’s captain Mikel Oyarzabal scored a second-half penalty that gave La Real its first Copa del Rey triumph in 34 years.

“It’s an incredible day,” Oyarzabal told reporters. “You remember everybody, all the people who would have loved to be here, people who have left us. This is for everyone, my family, my friends. It means everything.”

Losing a showpiece game always leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, especially when its against another Basque team — this was first time in history that Athletic had played La Real Sociedad in a Copa del Rey final. Eighteen of the 22 players that started on Saturday were Basque.

The request of both clubs to delay the final to ensure fans could attend denied Athletic a potential Europa League place.

The good news for Athletic is that it will also contest the 2021 Copa del Rey final on April 17, against Barcelona. That final will also be staged at La Cartuja.

“When you play in a final and you lose, that’s a very tough moment,” Athletic manager Marcelino García Toral told the club’s website.

“We were not ourselves and when we stray from our usual version, what happened to us can happen. They outplayed us and we have to congratulate them on their victory,” added Marcelino.

“We said before the game that the details were going to be decisive and in those details Real were superior.

“I’m not disappointed, before the game I was very proud of my players and I still am, but I am sad.

“Fortunately we have two finals in 15 days and from tomorrow we will try to gradually get better every day so that we can be at our best for the match against Barça.”

Athletic captain Iker Munian added: “We need to lift our heads up, there are important things at stake this season.

“On the 17th we have another final. We will try our best to win it, we owe it to the fans. We will start working tomorrow.”

Back in Bilbao, Athletic fans clashed with police ahead of the final after officers tried to prevent people from gathering in large numbers in defiance of coronavirus restrictions, according to Reuters.

“Some madmen causing problems before the final,” tweeted Bilbao mayor Juan Mari Aburto.

“You do not represent the values of our Athletic or our city. Please, a little sanity and let us enjoy ourselves.”

Athletic has won the Copa del Rey 23 times as well as eight La Liga titles, but hasn’t won a major trophy since 1984.

Nonetheless it’s an impressive record of success given Athletic’s policy of developing young player and only picking players native to the Basque region — that’s born in or with Basque parents.

The Basque Country is one of the most autonomous regions in Spain, having its own police force, education system, language and fiscal agreements, according to Reuters.

Article Topic Follows: Sports

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