Alaves’ Cup hopes

Inter had already been beaten 2-0 at the San Siro, Kaiserslautern were helpless as they shipped nine goals in two legs against a Basque side capturing the hearts of Europe. When Jordi Cruyff scored an 88th minute equaliser it was only Liverpool fans that weren’t celebrating. But even they had fallen for Alaves.

It was the UEFA Cup Final of 2001 in Dortmund and favourites Liverpool had led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 when Cruyff’s header forced extra-time. With penalties pending Delfi Geli headed into his own net and Liverpool lifted the trophy via the golden goal rule. Alaves had gained so much respect that the travelling Liverpool fans chanted ‘Al-a-ves, Al-a-ves’ as they collected their runners up medals.

That was over 10 years ago, and although it didn’t indicate an immediate decline for Alaves, it has been mostly downhill since then. Two seasons later they were relegated to Segunda and although a new owner, Dmitry Piterman, helped them return to La Liga, it was his interference which ultimately led to their free-fall and eventual relegation to Segunda B in 2009.

This week they are thrust back into the limelight as they welcome Barcelona for a Copa del Rey clash. And they welcome them in good form. Piterman long gone, they sit top of their Division with 24 points from 10 played and, with the Catalan giants due to visit, it is as good as it has been for many years in the Basque capital of Vitoria.

Unsurprisingly none of that heroic UEFA Cup side remain. The star of their season so far has been Spanish forward Guzman. The 27-year old arrived from Cueta in the summer and is something of a journeyman of the lower divisions in Spain. As is the Coach, Jose Granero, who has spent the best part of 20 years navigating Tercera and Segunda sides.

Names like Javi Moreno and Jordi Cruyff are now confined to the club’s history books, a place where tonight the new crop of players will be looking to add a new chapter against a Barcelona side who are expected to be much changed from the one that emphatically thumped Rayo Vallecano in Vallecas on Saturday night.

It may take a fool to believe it possible that Alaves could do the unthinkable and trump Tito Vilanova’s superstars but without believing, it wouldn’t have been possible for their sensational story to have been a reality in 2001. Tonight they’ll enjoy their time back in the public eye, maybe we will fall for them all over again.