The cup returned this week for its annual January and February midweek slog. This week’s round of 16 is littered with familiar faces with only two sides outside the top-flight. Segunda B side Racing Santander and Liga Adelante outfit Alcorcón are there having caused a shock against Sevilla and a minor upset against Granada.
The two-legged nature of the competition guarantees a day of glory at home for lower division sides but mitigates against their hopes of progression. The bigger the side, the bigger their squad and the greater their ability to rotate. The fact that they get two bites of the cherry stacks the odds against their weaker opponents.
Outliers remain just that- few and far between- and the case of CD Mirandés remains a one-off. The Segunda B side thrilled us two seasons ago, knocking out Espanyol, Racing and Villarreal en route to the semi-final before Athletic dumped them out.
Generally, the shocks tend to be one-off affairs. Witness Alcorcón’s famous 2009 humbling of Real Madrid. In the next round they failed to get past a struggling Racing despite battling hard.
It’s clear that playing over two legs favours the stronger sides and results in Primera clubs invariably dominating the latter rounds. This is not the case over the border in France where amateur sides regular cause shocks, going deep into the competition and creating some magical story-lines.
None greater than that of Calais RUFC, an amateur side from the fourth tier who made it all the way to the final itself in 2000. Having led at half-time their top division opponents Nantes finally got the better of them to win by 2-1.
Perhaps it’s a system Spain’s overblown Cup could learn from.
The French Cup is set up to give the little guy a fighting chance. When teams from different divisions are drawn together, the lower side is given home advantage. An off-day or lack of a professional approach can prove disastrous for top division sides who don’t turn up on the day sufficiently motivated
And this happens with regularity. Fifth tier Chamberry made history just a couple of seasons back in knocking out top-flight Monaco, Brest and Sochaux as the little town in the Alps went cup crazy.
For their quarter-final tie against Ligue 2 Angers they moved to Grenoble’s nearby stadium, packing it out with 25,000 fans. The dream ended that day but the memories will last a lifetime. Chamberry became the first amateur outfit to beat three Ligue 1 sides in a single season.
These are two of the starker examples of course, but the competition is weighted in such a way as to give the smaller clubs every chance of success and upsets abound. Just this weekend Lorient were dumped out by fourth tier Yzeure and two other sides fell to clubs two divisions below.
In Spain, the situation is clearly reversed. And there’s an argument for the cluttered calendar taking its toll even on the very biggest sides as European competitions reach the business end.
Perhaps a look at tweaking the format by the RFEF would not only raise interest and eliminate dead rubbers, but also be of ultimate benefit to its European representatives.
Without any doubt it was also add some thrills to what has become a very predictable Copa del Rey