x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The match fit for a king

Atletico Madrid will contest their second major final in a week when they meet a depleted Sevilla side at Camp Nou in search for a double since 1996.

Atletico Madrid will look to Sergio Aguero to lead the line against Sevilla.
Atletico Madrid will look to Sergio Aguero to lead the line against Sevilla.

The Primera Liga season is over, but football remains firmly on the agenda in Spain with the country looking forward to an intriguing Copa Del Rey final tonight between two evenly matched teams. Atletico Madrid will contest their second major final in a week when they meet Sevilla at Camp Nou. It is the first time Barcelona's great stadium - the largest football ground in the world that is used on a regular basis - has staged a final since the dramatic 1999 Champions League encounter between Bayern Munich and Manchester United.

More than 90,000 tickets have been sold, with equal numbers of fans of both sides travelling across Spain. Camp Nou last staged a "King's Cup" final in 1970, the Spanish king being more popular outside Catalonia. Spain rarely play international games in the region, but there has been a shift in attitudes as the country's brilliant Euro 2008-winning team have so many Catalan players. Atletico fans have barely stopped celebrating their Europa League win against Fulham last Wednesday, with red and white flags appearing all over the capital and even rival Real Madrid fans being pleased for their neighbours. Atletico won a league and cup double in 1996 and are hoping to make this their most successful season since.

"If we beat Sevilla, it would be a dream season," said Enrique Cerezo, the Atletico president. They have a full squad including the in-form strike pairing of Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan, but both finalists have had to request permission for World Cup-bound players to be released. Unless a side is playing in the Champions League final, national teams take priority this week. Argentina have given permission for Aguero to play, but Atletico are still awaiting confirmation from Portugal over midfielders Simao and Tiago, and from Uruguay for Forlan, their top scorer. Sevilla, who finished fourth in the league, have injury problems with top scorer Luis Fabiano missing the final after failing to recover from a thigh muscle injury in time.

The 29-year-old picked up the injury while warming up for Sevilla's game at Almeria on Saturday, although he maintains he will be fine for the World Cup finals with Brazil. "I'm disappointed to miss out," Fabiano told reporters, "but I'm going to South Africa with a clear conscience because I gave my best for the club this season. I was prepared to play, but the medical department said that would not be possible this week so I will join up with the Brazil team."

His absence is made worse as Sevilla will also be without Alvaro Negredo, the Spain striker. The former Real Madrid man was sent off during the 3-2 victory over Almeria at the weekend for protesting a decision. Negredo's petulance has earned him three straight red cards this season and instead of making a positive impression on Vicente del Bosque, the Spain coach, Negredo's chances of making the final 23-man squad for the World Cup have been diminished.

Sevilla are likely to start with Freddie Kanoute up front alongside the reserve striker Rodri, a 19-year-old with just two first-team substitute appearances to his name, but who scored the winner in the last minute of the game against Almeria to clinch Champions League football for his club next season. He will have the support of an excellent four-strong midfield comprising Jesus Navas, Didier Zokora, Renato and Diego Capel. Sevilla won the last of their four Copa del Reys in 2007, while Atletico have won the cup nine times, the last in that double winning year of 1996. Atletico had the easier route to the final, beating Marbella, Recreativo Huelva, Celta Vigo and Racing Santander, with all games played over two legs. Sevilla eliminated Atletico Ciudad, Barcelona, Deportivo and Getafe on the way to the Camp Nou. The competing teams have both beaten each other this season in the league - another reason why the it is hard to pick a winner. @Email:sports@thenational.ae

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