Copa del Rey


Espanyol won their first trophy for 60 years after beating Atlético Madrid in Valencia (see our match report below). This was the 24th edition of the cup under it's current name, and next year the Spanish Football Federation will be making major changes in order to make it more attractive, with many big clubs losing money and crowds not turning up in earlier rounds.

The new set up will be put to the general assembly on 14th July for approval, but basically the plan consists of playing the first four rounds over one leg, with matches played at the ground of the lower ranked team, and then over two legs as from the quarter final. All first and second division A teams will enter in the second round, together with 22 teams from the lower divisions, and first division sides and then teams playing in Europe will be seeded in the last two 'one-leg' rounds. The final will be played in Sevilla on 30th June, and as this will be the 25th edition there will be a special ceremony to celebrate the fact.

Following their refusal to play in the second leg of this year s semi-finals due to lack of available players, FC Barcelona were fined and excluded from next year's competition. However informed sources expect the club to be pardoned in order to allow them to participate.

The changes are to be welcomed, although in our opinion there are still flaws. For example, more smaller clubs could be included in additional earlier rounds to give the competition wider appeal, and the draw could be more random, forgetting seedings and playing in the ground of the first team drawn (for some reason everyone in Spain believes that in the English cup competition, matches are played in the ground of the lower division side). Still, it is a good start, and if the big clubs don't block it (they don't like to lose too early and they have complained about grounds not in good condition), then next year should be a more meaningful competition.

Espanyol 2 - Atlético Madrid 1

Espanyol: Cavallero; Cristóbal, Nando, Pochettino, Roger; Velamazán, Galca, Sergio, Arteaga; Martín Posse (Rotchen 78'); Tamudo (Serrano 70'). 4-4-1-1.
Atlético: Toni; Gaspar, Santi, Gamarra (Luque 52'), Capdevila; Aguilera (Solari 75'), Baraja, Valerón, Hugo Leal; Kiko, Hasselbaink. 4-4-2.

1-0. 02.Tamudo. Headed ball out of Toni's grasp and rounded him to score.
2-0. 85. Sergio. Controlled ball with his head and volleyed ball past keeper.
2-1. 92. Hasselbaink. Hit shot from edge of area which took an awkward bounce.

An emotional Spanish cup final was played at Valencia's Mestalla stadium, with both sides desperately needing to win the trophy for differing reasons. Espanyol had not won the cup for 60 years, and their last appearance in a cup final was 43 years ago. In their centenary year this year, fans were looking for something special to round off their campaign. Atlético Madrid were hoping to save their season with a victory after being relegated to the second division for the first time since 1934. A win here would at least have given them a place in next season's UEFA cup, giving them additional income and helping to keep hold of key players who may otherwise leave at the thought of playing lower level opposition next season.

The 53,000 capacity stadium was packed, with Espanyol fans appearing to dominate, a host of flags and colours warming up an already lively atmosphere. Espanyol's manager Paco Flores had a fully fit squad to choose from (except for Benítez who is still recovering from a serious operation), and he chose to include Cavallero in goal, even though Mora had played in previous rounds.

The choice of keepers proved to be one of the key decisions of the match, with Atlético's caretaker manager Zambrano picking Toni rather than first choice Molina. He also included Kiko up front alongside Hasselbaink instead of Solari, and brought in Hugo Leal on the left side of midfield. Spain's three under 21 internationals, Atlético's Capdevila and Espanyol's Tamudo and Velamazán, were all allowed to play by Camacho before joining the squad in Slovakia, even though this match coincided with Spain's first game with the Czech Republic. However, Bjebl was unavailable for Atlético as he was called up by the full Czech side for the upcoming Euro 2000 championship.

The first goal of the match came completely by surprise in the second minute, with Tamudo demonstrating his killer instinct after a lack of concentration by Toni. The young striker learnt the keeper's habits when he was playing at Espanyol last season, and he spotted his opportunity as Toni bounced the ball unaware that Tamudo was behind him. As the ball rose on the bounce, the Espanyol player nipped in to head it away from the keeper and dribble round him to score. Referee López Nieto (who refereed the UEFA cup final between Arsenal and Galatasaray) correctly awarded the goal despite protests from the Atlético players.

The Madrid side came back on the attack, but Cavallero was superb in the Catalan goal, saving from Aguilera and Valerón in the first half. Baraja wasted the best chance of the match after he shot over from close range in the 27th minute.

At half time Zambrano brought on young B team forward Luque for Gamarra, and 20 minutes later he introduced Solari for Aguilera (incidentally, that gave the side a particularly 'hairy' look, with the two new men, plus Gaspar and Hugo Leal all sporting flowing locks). Hasselbaink came to life in the second half of what will certainly be his last match for the club, and he tested the Argentinian keeper a couple of times, especially from a free kick on the edge of the area, and when he did finally get the better of the keeper, Pochettino was there to clear the danger.

Both sides were going in hard, with Atleti's Gaspar lucky not to be sent off (he is surely the replacement for Juanma López) and after Serrano replaced a tired Tamudo, López Nieto sent off Nando for a second bookable offence. Flores took off Posse, leaving Serrano alone up front, with Rotchen taking Nando's place in defence. Atlético's frustrations were evident, and Santi got his marching orders for a tackle on Serrano from behind.

With only two defenders left Atlético were leaving gaps in defence, and five minutes from time Sergio broke free to volley Espanyol's second. A late surge by the Madrid side brought a goal for Hasselbaink, his shot taking a high bounce off the pitch to deceive Cavallero.

The atmosphere in the last two minutes was red hot as balls were bombarded into the Espanyol penalty area, but López Nieto put their fans out of their misery with the final whistle. After that it was tears all round. Hasselbaink was in tears, lying face down on the ground and later hugging his wife, Toni was in tears, pleading with fans for forgiveness and being told by president Jesus Gil in the director's box that he was not to blame, Luque and his fellows were in tears, Serrano and other Espanyol players were in tears, both sets of fans were in tears, and if the match had to be replayed it would have probably been called off for a waterlogged pitch.

Tamudo apologized to his friend Toni, but after that it was joy for the Barcelona based side as they returned to the Condal city for the following day's celebrations. Atlético went back to Madrid shattered after losing their second final in successive years, and we all await news on who will stay and who will be leaving. Kiko said he wants to remain, although he and his colleagues will probably have to accept a salary cut if they do so. If others follow, they should rise from the ashes and be back in the first division next year.

Copa del Rey 1999/2000