x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Basques are still hunt for silverware

Pep Guardiola's last game as Barcelona coach is against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final.

The Copa del Rey will be the last game as Barcelona coach for Pep Guardiola.
The Copa del Rey will be the last game as Barcelona coach for Pep Guardiola.

Barcelona and Real Madrid may dominate Spain's league title table, but it is different in the cup, where Real's 18 Copa del Rey titles leave them lagging behind Barcelona's 25 and Athletic Bilbao's 23.

The Basque and Catalan pair, who last met in the 2009 final which saw Pep Guardiola lift his first trophy as Barca boss, meet in tonight's decider in Atletico Madrid's 54,000-capacity Vicente Calderon stadium.

The game was supposed to be staged in the far bigger and more appropriate Bernabeu, but the prospect of the Spanish anthem being booed and constant anti-Real songs was too much for Florentino Perez, the Madrid club's president, to contemplate. The losers are the 30,000 fans who will miss out on tickets in the smaller venue.

Athletic were the undisputed cup kings until their 23rd and last trophy (in all competitions) in 1984. The competition pre-dated the Primera Liga by 30 years and the Basques had already racked up nine cups by the time the league started in 1929.

Neutrals think that Marcelo Bielsa's side are worthy of one trophy after their thrilling endeavours across Europe this season and they have the advantage of playing a Barca side missing several key players to injury.

Long-term absences Eric Abidal and David Villa - who informed the Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque that he won't be able to play in the Euro 2012 - have been joined by defenders Carlos Puyol and Dani Alves.

The tired Basques, "Bielsa' eleven soldiers" to fans, have no such worries and will make one last push for a trophy before several of their stars, such as Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez, are expected to leave in the close season.

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE