MADRID: Mikel Oyarzabal scored the penalty that won Real Sociedad the delayed 2020 Copa del Rey on Saturday before dedicating their victory to the fans unable to attend an historic final against Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao. Oyarzabal, La Real’s captain who joined their youth academy aged 14, proved the difference in a 1-0 win in Seville, where the biggest ever game between these two famous clubs was played in an empty stadium.
“It’s an incredible day,” said a tearful Oyarzabal afterwards. “You remember everybody, all the people who would have loved to be here, people who have left us. This is for everyone, my family, my friends. It means everything.” Oyarzabal’s strike secures Real Sociedad their first Copa del Rey triumph in 34 years while at the same denying a 24th success for Athletic Bilbao, who must now try to recover in time for a second attempt in two weeks’ time.
Athletic have also reached the final of this season’s competition, which will be played on the same pitch at La Cartuja on April 17, with Barcelona and Lionel Messi their opponents next time around. “I’m not disappointed, I’m sad,” said coach Marcelino Garcia Toral. “The players are gutted but they have to bounce back.”
For Real Sociedad, this was a one-off chance and they took it, edging a final that was tight, tense and without clear openings, but one in which the better team lifted the trophy at the finish. Eighteen of the 22 players that started were Basque, with many of them beginning in the academies of the club’s they now represent, including Oyarzabal, who was born in Gipuzkoa and joined Real Sociedad’s ‘Zubieta’ as a teenager.
The final had been put off as long as possible in the hope fans might be able to attend, but instead it was staged almost 1,000 kilometers south in Seville, where around 350 guests and journalists were allowed in, but the stands were otherwise left empty.
Trouble in Bilbao
Excitement spilled over in Bilbao, where police had attended to disturbances earlier in the evening. Large crowds of Athletic fans gathered near the team’s San Mames stadium, with some throwing bottles and flares, while many ignored rules regarding social distancing. “Some madmen causing problems before the final,” wrote Bilbao mayor Juan Mari Aburto. “You do not represent the values of our Athletic or our city. Please, a little sanity and let us enjoy ourselves.”
There was little about La Cartuja that felt like home for these two teams, except perhaps the weather, given the first 20 minutes was played in torrential rain. Neither side really settled in a frantic first half, full of rushed passes and nervy touches, but Real Sociedad were the more dominant in possession, even if Athletic went closest to scoring.
Raul Garcia flashed wide early on from an acute angle before Inigo Martinez fired off a shot from distance, with La Real goalkeeper Alex Remiro doing well to tip the ball over. The second half was more concentrated as both teams tightened up and two penalty decisions in quick succession put Athletic on the back foot.
Inigo was at the center of both, first blocking an Oyarzabal cross with his arm, only for VAR to spare the defender, with referee Javier Estrada deciding he was just outside the box. But there was no disputing the second, as Inigo this time prevented Portu from finishing off a superb ball through by Mikel Merino, the only consolation that his initial red card was reduced to a yellow. Oyarzabal exhaled and struck the penalty sweetly into the corner. There were eight minutes added on for injury time but Athletic never looked like finding an equalizer. They will try again in two weeks. – AFP