Barcelona once again dealing with Copa del Rey drama
It's official: Barcelona will face Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final on May 30. The Blaugranas booked their place in the final for the fifth time in the last seven seasons by thrashing Villarreal with a convincing 6-2 aggregate score in the semifinals.
This exciting matchup between the most historically successful teams in the Spanish knockout competition, with a combined 49 titles between them, seems to have become a bit of a tradition. In fact, the Catalans and Basques competed in the last stage of the Copa back in 2012 and 2009. Cules would certainly be more than happy with a repeat of their victories (3-0 and 4-1, respectively).
Unfortunately, the drama surrounding the decision about which stadium is to host the final will be a major talking point over the next weeks, which is likely to overshadow the game itself. The Spanish football federation, in an unnecessary attempt to create problems where there really aren't any, has an extremely bizarre system in place when it comes to deciding where the Copa final is to be played.
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Basically, members of the FEF crate a committee which chooses the stadium for the final only after both semifinals have been played. In other words, nobody really knows whether the game will be played in Barcelona, Sevilla, Valencia, San Sebastian or Madrid until less than two months before kickoff -- making it impossible for supporters to think ahead and save those all-important euros when planning their journey.
As expected, both the Barca and the Athletic board have already agreed to do everything within their power to ensure the final is hosted at the Santiago Bernabeu. Having the final hosted in Real Madrid's stadium makes perfect sense, as the distance from both Barcelona and Bilbao to the Spanish capital is pretty much equal. More importantly, up to 40,000 supporters from each team would be able to attend the match given the stadium's 81,000-strong capacity.
Unsurprisingly, Real Madrid's president Florentino Perez is not that keen on the idea of allowing their historical rivals the chance to become champions in their home ground. The euphoric way in which Barca celebrated their Copa title back in 1997, which included former president Joan Gaspart sprinting across the whole pitch holding the Catalans' scarf with the Cant del Barca anthem playing in the background, continues to be as fresh a memory as ever in Madridista's minds -- and it's certainly not a good one.
When approached about the possibility of hosting the final in 2012, Perez refused, arguing that the stadium's toilets were being repaired on that specific date. No, seriously. This year, who knows -- maybe the excuse will be that the Bernabeu may be needed to host an eventual Real Madrid Castilla game if, as expected, they are still fighting for promotion into the Segunda Division at that point.
Ultimately, it is clear that the Spanish federation can't force Real Madrid to host this year's final and, if they don't want to play ball, then other alternatives will be considered. As has been the case in recent years, Valencia's 55,000-strong Mestalla stadium may end up being the only realistic option -- even if that means that a much smaller number of fans will be allowed to enjoy the game live as a result.
In England, Wembley Stadium traditionally hosts every single national team game, the finals of the various cups in their different categories and even various playoff matches for promotion into higher divisions. A similar system is in place in Germany, with the Olympic Stadium in Berlin being the home of their cup final since 1985. Their organised, common-sense approach is both enviable and admirable.
Unless an agreement on a designated stadium can be reached before the competition actually starts, the supporters who ultimately make the event the great occasion it is meant to be will be left second-guessing time and time again. Ultimately, the football federation should do everything within their power to ensure pettiness between club directors doesn't get in the way of putting on the very best show for as many fans as possible.
Spain is different -- once again. The eternal drama involving the Copa final will continue to haunt fans on a yearly basis unless FEF directors decide to change their obsolete, nonsensical system for the benefit of all involved.
The Quote: "We are proud to have reached the final. We are going through a positive moment and we must ensure it continues. The Bernabeu would be an ideal place for the final to be played, but I'm not sure what the decision will be. The most important thing is that we are in it!" -- Andres Iniesta.