‘Unthinkable’: Upstart Alaves move on to meet Barcelona 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 their 96-year history. Barcelona, on the other hand, will be making their 39th appearance in the domestic competition’s final.

Alaves' Edgar Mendez, right, celebrates with Iabi Gomez, after Mendez scored against Celta Vigo on February 8, 2017. Alvaro Barrientos / AP
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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 their 96-year history. Barcelona, on the other hand, will be making their 39th appearance in the domestic competition’s final.

Barcelona have won virtually every possible title in the competitions they have played. Alaves’ only winner’s trophy is for Spain’s second division.

In the final on May 27, Barcelona will field a team that includes Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Neymar. 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 the team’s 1-0 home win over Celta Vigo in Wednesday’s second leg of the semi-finals. “We’ll be mobilised for this final.”

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The only other time Alaves enjoyed this kind of success was 16 years ago when they reached the final of the Uefa Cup, the competition now known as the Europa League. They got agonisingly close to the title at the time, losing 5-4 to Liverpool in extra time in a thriller in Dortmund.

They have mostly struggled since then, spending several years out of Spain’s top division. The club, founded in 1921, was promoted to the Primera 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, have been in the Copa del Rey final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. They have won Spain’s second-most important club competition a record 28 times, including the last two.

But despite the lopsided match-up, there’s reason to believe in a historic result in the final.

Alaves stunned Barcelona 2-1 in the league earlier this season, handing the Catalan club their only home loss with goals by Deyverson and Ibai Gomez.

The clubs will meet again in the league on Saturday in the Basque Country in a preview of the Copa final. Barcelona is second in the league with 45 points, 18 more than 12th-place Alaves.

Before the league loss this season, Barcelona had won five straight games between the two sides, including four in the Copa del Rey. They won both games in the last 16 in 2007, and then cruised to a 6-1 aggregate win in the early rounds in 2012.

Barcelona have 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.

They made it to this year's final by eliminating Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid — the latter one in the semi-finals. Alaves got past Deportivo La Coruna, second-division club Alcorcon and Celta Vigo, which had 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 in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against Atletico at Camp Nou.

The venue for the final has yet to be determined, although it will likely be played in Madrid.

Last season, officials wanted Barcelona and Sevilla to play the decider at Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, but a Bruce Springsteen concert was scheduled for the venue and the Madrid club avoided having its biggest rival celebrating a title on its grounds. The final was eventually played at Atletico’s Vicente Calderon Stadium.

* Associated Press

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