Surprising Alaves to take on Barcelona in Copa del Rey final
MADRID: There could hardly be more contrasting teams in the Copa del Rey final.
Alaves, the recently promoted club from Basque Country, will be playing in the final of a major tournament only for the second time in its 96-year history.
Barcelona, on the other hand, will be making its 39th appearance in the Copa final.
Barcelona has won virtually every possible title in the competitions it has played.
Alaves' only winner's trophy is for Spain's second division.
In the final on May 27, Barcelona will field the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and NeyMarch
Alaves' top forward is Deyverson, a Brazilian barely known even in his native country.
"This was unthinkable in the beginning of the season," Alaves coach Mauricio Pellegrino said after their clinching 1-0 home win over Celta Vigo on Wednesday in the semi-finals. "We'll be mobilised for this final."
The only other time Alaves enjoyed this kind of success was 16 years ago when it reached the final of the UEFA Cup. It lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time in a thriller in Dortmund.
It has mostly struggled since then, spending several years out of Spain's top division. The club, founded in 1921, was promoted to La Liga this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, including four in the third tier.
"After 96 years, to reach the Copa final for the first time, there will be a 'before' and an 'after' this achievement," Alaves president Alfonso Fernandez de Troconiz said. "It's been an amazing season."
Barcelona, meanwhile, has been in the Copa del Rey final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. It has won it a record 28 times, including the last two.
But despite the lopsided matchup, there's reason to believe in an historic result in the final.
Alaves stunned Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou in the Spanish league this season, handing the Catalan club its only home loss with goals by Deyverson and Ibai Gomez.
The teams meet again in the league on Saturday in Basque Country. Barcelona is second in the league with 18 more points than 12th-place Alaves.
Before the league loss, Barcelona had won five straight games between the two sides, including four in the Copa del Rey. It won both games in the last 16 in 2007, and cruised to a 6-1 aggregate win in the early rounds in 2012.
Barcelona has yet to lose a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since coach Luis Enrique took over in 2014, a run of 12 straight triumphs.
It made it to this year's final by eliminating Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, and Atletico Madrid, the latter in the semi-finals.
Alaves got past Deportivo La Coruna, second-division club Alcorcon, and Celta, which eliminated Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.
Barcelona is already certain to be without defender Sergi Roberto and striker Luis Suarez, who were sent off on Tuesday in the 1-1 draw against Atletico at Camp Nou. Suarez was handed a two-game suspension on Thursday for refusing to immediately leave the field after being shown the red card.
The venue for the final has yet to be determined, although it will likely be in Madrid.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez hinted on Thursday that the club's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium likely won't be available because renovation work will be underway during the final.
Last season, officials wanted Barcelona and Sevilla to play the decider at the Bernabeu, but a Bruce Springsteen concert was scheduled for the venue and Madrid avoided having its biggest rival celebrating a title on its grounds. The final was eventually played at Atletico's Vicente Calderon Stadium.