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 By Sid Lowe

The madness of tiny Fuenlabrada meeting giants Madrid in Copa del Rey

Alejandro Moreno says Real Madrid's best course of action is to see out the remaining years of Cristiano Ronaldo's contract.

Luis Milla was the first to know -- or think he knew. Suddenly, his phone started to vibrate like crazy and that could only mean one thing, couldn't it? "The nerves," he says. "Bloody hell, the nerves!" The nerves and then the explosion. "Madness," he calls it. Twenty-four hours later, almost to the minute, it is a word he repeats often: Locura.

Another word he uses a lot is "imagine" and over the past day, he's barely stopped imagining. For the next month, he'll carry on imagining. He sits on the bench and looks out across the pitch. "Imagine this place full ... madness," he says. Imagine that place full too.

It was the draw for the fourth round of the Copa del Rey and the Fuenlabrada team were packed into the press room at their ground. Facing them, the TV cameras waited to capture the moment, even if they had to stage it ever so slightly. Sitting alongside the M407 motorway, the ground is named after Fernando Torres but he hasn't been there since it was opened in 2011 and they now knew he wasn't coming next month. They knew that Lionel Messi wasn't coming, either. As the names were read out from Las Rozas, 30 kilometres north, they felt opportunity slip them by. There was, though, one more prize left and it was the biggest of them all.

At this stage of the Copa del Rey, when the first-division teams join the competition, the draw is "fixed". The surviving teams from Spain's Second Division B -- the country's theoretically amateur third tier, made up of four regionalised, 20-team groups -- know that they are guaranteed to face a team that is competing in Europe. All of them are big teams but, in truth, getting Villarreal or Real Sociedad, or even Athletic Bilbao or Sevilla, just isn't the same as getting Barcelona or Atletico Madrid. Still less, Real Madrid. And that was what was about to happen, Luis Milla knew.

"We were watching it on the telly but it was delayed for some reason, so I was there with the mobile," he says. "I wasn't looking at it but I had it on vibrate, between my legs. Barcelona had been and gone. Atletico got Elche; I've got a mate at Elche and we're in a WhatsApp group and I felt it buzz, then a bit later, it came up on the screen. The messages were all excited: 'Lolo, you're going to the Wanda'. The time passed and I thought: 'Bah, we're out of this; we're not going to get one of the grandes.

"And suddenly ...

"Buzzzzzz! Buzzzzzz! Buzzzzzz!"

It still wasn't on the screen, the delay almost a minute long. Milla didn't look down. What he did do was what he is now acting out: sitting there, almost bursting, not daring to believe it, trying to repress a smile, grinning through gritted teeth, nudging teammates with his elbows.

"Buzzzzzz! Buzzzzzz! Buzzzzzz!"

Luis Milla
As his phone kept vibrating, Luis Milla knew his Fuenlabrada would meet Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

It must be, mustn't it?

"Buzzzzzz! Buzzzzzz! Buzzzzzz!"

Surely? He was sitting at the back; at the front, they were still staring at the screen, which was still behind, still no news.

"Buzzzzzz! Buzzzzzz! Buzzzzzz!"

Then he noticed something else: the watching cameramen, earpieces in, straightening up.

"The lads at the front didn't know, but you see the cameramen focus a bit and you think: 'hang on ...'"

"Buzzzzzz! Buzzzzzz! Buzzzzzz!"

This is it ... Real Madrid versus Fuenlabrada.

And the place erupts. "Madness." They leaped and sang and hugged each other. Someone cracked open the champagne and started spraying it about. Outside, the barbecue had begun, right next to the pitch. Time to celebrate. The night before, Milla had dinner with Real Madrid's Marcos Llorente, watching European football together; now they will face each other in the cup -- and it is Llorente's shirt he wants.

"Historic," Milla calls it and he's right. For Fuenlabrada, this is genuinely massive. The cup's format is far from ideal and it is a competition riddled with flaws, but head to the Fernando Torres and it's impossible not to be caught up in it all, to see what it means. Fuenlabrada have never played Real Madrid before -- never lost to them, either, as they like to put it. They have never even been in the Copa del Rey fourth round before. If you want to appreciate how big the leap is, try this: three days before they go the Bernabeu, Fuenlabrada play Castilla in the league.

Castilla are Madrid's B team, full of young hopefuls.

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But the fact that they are here now is a success and underlines their progress: the competition is not open to every Second Division B team (this season only the top five from each group get access, plus the four teams with the highest points totals beyond that). Last season, Fuenlabrada finished third, their highest ever finish, reaching the playoffs where two penalties saw them fall to two 1-0 defeats, and they also reached the final of the Copa Federacion, which they lost to Saguntino. There are good players here: Milla is a classy passing midfielder, for a start, while one opposition manager said striker Dioni Villalba is the best player in the whole division.

Still, this is a small club, enjoying something unique and unexpected, one that had to come through two rounds to be here. Based in one of five adjacent satellite towns that ring Madrid to the south alongside Leganes, Getafe, Mostoles and Alcorcon, Fuenlabrada has a population of 194,000, but most of them are Madrid fans.

"Imagine this place full," Milla says, but it is not easy. No one yet even knows what it will look like; it was expanded last season for the playoffs, temporary seating added, but it was still only just over 4,000 and for much of the season attendances could be counted in the hundreds. For some games in the Copa Federacion during the winter, there were barely dozens, even with free entry. This season, there are more. Fuenlabrada have around 900 season ticket holders -- prices start at only €40 for an adult -- and now they're facing Madrid.

Now, they're thinking about building new, high stands at each end, if they can. Nine thousand is the target. Then there's TV. For the club, competing in a division where not many players make much more than €1,000 a month, this is the budget sorted for the whole season. "We're lucky that it was us," Milla says. "Madrid in the Torres. Imagine it. It's madness.

"The club told us this was a priority, economically and in terms of repercussion. Fuenlabrada is not such a big city and there it is in the press, on the news, people talking about it. Not so many people knew us before, now they do. You think back to last year and all the people who were here that helped us to finish third, which is why we're in the cup, and you would like them to be able to enjoy this with us."

Suddenly, others want to do just that. Have there been ticket requests?

"Yeah, loads," Milla grins. "People I haven't spoken to for ages, have hardly heard from, I say: 'If you come to our four games before, I'll get you in.'"

For the players it is colossal. There are five players in the Fuenlabrada team who have been to the Bernabeu, including 38-year-old Cata Diaz who played for Getafe until this summer; Jordi Codina, who was at Real Madrid; and Ruben Sanz, who was part of the Alcorcon team who famously defeated Manuel Pellegrini's Madrid 4-0 in the cup. Milla's dad, also called Luis Milla, the former Spain U21 manager and currently the national team coach of Indonesia, has played there lots of times: he was at Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia.

But this Luis, aged 22, never really expected to get the chance. Nor did most of his teammates. For them, this is the first time -- and, most assume, the last. That overrides all else, even for Luis senior, who will travel from Indonesia for the game at the Bernabeu.

Luis Milla
Luis Milla and Fuenlabrada will host Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey fourth-round first leg.

"This is a unique experience," Milla says. "We'd love to have the chance to play at the Bernabeu again one day, but you don't know if that will ever happen. We're going to get the chance to compete against the best players in the word. Even if they play with subs, their subs would be the best in any other team. And we have to fight, be ambitious. We know that Madrid are the hostia, the business, but Alcorcon did it."

The cup's two-legged format makes an upset even more unlikely, of course, particularly with the second leg always at the home of bigger club -- and that is something to lament.

"Imagine if it was one game here at Fuenlabrada," Milla says. "Madness. Imagine you start well, you score first and the fans think hostia. But this way, you score a goal and there will be a long, long way to go. Imagine you score after 10 minutes: you've got to hold on for 170. It's very hard."

"There are much fewer chances of a shock and yet, selfishly, the chance to play at the Bernabeu is unique. It's true that for the competition it would be better to be a one-off game: it's much more attractive for the fans, the clubs, everything ... and anything can happen. But, the truth is, that as a player I think: 'hostia, I'm going to the Bernabeu.'"

That is something they all want, a moment that they are all desperate not to miss out on.

"We talked about it yesterday and it's not easy," Milla says. "The logical thing is that we can't go through, so the logical thing is then to give everyone a game, to let everyone have a chance to enjoy this, and anyway the manager trusts everyone. But it is a question. You never know what might happen. Here's a hypothesis: we get a good result here. Then what? Then the manager has to decide if we go for it or if he shares the minutes around. Just arriving at the Santiago Bernabeu and driving in there in the Fuenla bus must be the business."

And then it's down to business. Milla imagines it, mimicking himself walking in all serious, staring straight ahead. It may even be time to buy some out-sized headphones to play the part properly.

"It's easy to say 'Nah, you're playing without pressure ...' but you go out there and there's always pressure, nerves. You'll go there out and think 'Wow, this is huge.' Look up and it never ends. But it's an opportunity for us to show that we can play at a higher level and you want to compete. So, 'Go out there and enjoy it!' Enjoy it? No. And what if they score three [early]? Maybe you're out there thinking: 'Someone, stop this.' I'm ambitious, we all are. We'll go there to try to win. Who knows? And it depends on here; if we play well, if there's magic, if you get a result here ..."

Milla looks across the pitch again. "Imagine. Madness."

Sid Lowe is a Spain-based columnist and journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @sidlowe.

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