Copa del Rey: new format, new stories

The Copa del Rey has a brand new look this year. The organizing body has done away with the two-legged affairs throughout the tournament, which normally minimized the possibility of surprises, giving a huge advantage to the bigger first and second division teams.

Starting this year, up until the semi-finals the games will be contested with only one single match, and always in the home ground of the lower-ranked side. This new format has given the smaller Segunda B (third tier) and Tercera Division (fourth tier) sides to make their mark in a new way, both in a sporting aspect and a social sense off the pitch.

Between upsets, new friendships made, and extremely long distances travelled, here are five stories from the first round of this year’s Copa del Rey.

Becerril 0-8 Real Sociedad

You wouldn’t normally think an eight-goal thrashing would prompt the president of the losing club to pronounce the game as a “genuine football party,” but such was the goodwill between the sets of players and clubs as a whole that brought Becerril boss Juan Antonio Redondo to say such words filled with excitement and joy. “We really appreciate the treatment Real Sociedad gave us and how they cheered us on despite the thrashing.”

The amity lasted much further than kind words however, as Redondo informed Spanish newspaper Marca that the Real Sociedad directors invited the whole team, directors, and indeed everyone in the entire town to come to one of their Primera Division games all included – match tickets, food, travel, everything.

Becerril come from the town of Becerril de Campos, a tiny village just north of Valladolid, and has a population of around 1,000 inhabitants. They normally play their football in the fourth tier and are a team made up of players who need to hold down other jobs away from sport in order to make a living, such teaching and factory working.

Pontevedra X UD Ibiza

Due to the simple nature of the geography of Spain, any UD Ibiza fan that travels to see their team play on the mainland is really going the extra mile. Daniel Pades (pictured) took a ferry from Ibiza in the Mediterrannean Sea to Dénia on Spain’s east coast, before driving over 1,200km to reach Pontevedra on the north east coast of the peninsula. He was the only Ibiza fan in attendance for the cup tie.

This impressive dedication was met with bucketing rain, forcing the game to be abandoned 17 minutes into the encounter with the game goalless.

However, after his story went viral, and was seen by club president Amadeo Salvo, who rewarded Pades’ loyalty with an invitation to travel to the rearranged tie along with the team. The rescheduled game will take place in Galicia on 8 January.

Image via @unascensoa2B

Real Jaén 3-1 Deportivo Alavés

A cup tie pitting a top division team against fourth tier opposition normally doesn’t come with the level of bite as Alavés traveling to Jaén. These sides last met on the last day of the 2013/14 season in the second division, with both sides languishing in the relegation zone. A drop out of Segunda means a drop out of the professional leagues, something that can be extremely difficult to overcome should this fate fall upon you.

Ultimately, a 93rd minute goal condemned Jaén to their fate, and kept Alavés in the division to fight another year. The years since have seen the clubs continue the same trajectories – Alavés reaching La Liga in 2016, while a year later the Andalusians fell to the 18-league fourth tier, the lowest level the club have played at in their history.

In the cup tie, their first meeting since that fateful day, the home players carried this extra motivation with every sprint they made and every tackle they put in against their opponents who play three divisions above them in the pyramid. A resounding 3-1 win will give Jaén something to be proud of and perhaps the belief they need to climb the leagues once again.

Real Murcia 1-0 Racing Santander

Real Murcia have gone through hell and back, only to begin enjoying cup success in the latter stages of 2019. Financial problems enveloped the club and debts of €50m forced them to increase the entity’s capital stock, allowing supporters to buy shares of the club and become part-owners.

A huge effort of stripping things back in the club has gone underway, all the while the team plays its football in the semi-professional third tier in a stadium that could fit over 30,000 fans. Merely 12 years ago, this team and that stadium hosted the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona in the top division.

This week however, there have been celebrations on the east coast, as a Copa victory over second-tier Racing Santander – who themselves are a historically massive club that have only returned to the second division after five turbulent years – brought joy once more to Murcia. This followed on from 5 December’s Copa de la Federacion success over Tudelano, giving Murcia their first piece of silverware since lifting the second division trophy in 2002/03.

Tamaraceite 3-2 Almeria

Almeria have caused one of the biggest stirs in the second division this season, with a new owner splashing the cash, and a new manager steering the team towards promotion – none other than Real Madrid legend Guti in his first managerial role.

They visited Tamaraceite for their cup tie as heavy favourites but came out of the encounter in the worst possible way. Almeria found an equalising goal for 2-2 in injury time, which forced an extra thirty minutes of play against the Canary Islands-based side. An extra thirty minutes into the legs, which manager Guti admitted the players were not used to (although neither were Tamaraceite) only to then lose the tie in this period added on.

Their talented forward Sekou got injured, and the goalscorer for the home side’s third saw a red card before the end of the 120 minutes, adding a small detail of more embarrassment in going out to a ten-man side from the fourth tier.

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