RCD Mallorca celebrate. Reuters
A big day for one of these bridesmaids
A look at LaLiga

A big day for one of these bridesmaids

Neither Athletic Club de Bilbao nor RCD Mallorca are strangers to the Copa del Rey final, played this weekend at La Cartuja

Friday, 5 April 2024, 16:59


At last, one of the footballing bridesmaids will celebrate their big day as Spanish football comes to a standstill this weekend for the Copa del Rey final.

Both Athletic Club de Bilbao and Real Mallorca have made it to the altar many times but have watched enviously as their rivals have led the celebrations and danced the night away.

The Basque club played two Spanish Cup finals in two weeks in the spring of 2021 and they've made the semi finals for the past five seasons - yet they haven't taken the trophy home in 40 years. This is Mallorca's fourth final: they dream of emulating the team of 2003 who earned the club's only ever major honour.

It's fitting that the game features two teams who really value the Copa and regard reaching the final as a major achievement rather than a distraction to grander ambitions.

Athletic stand a good chance of taking a top four spot and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League but most of the people of Bilbao would rather win the cup than qualify for the elite European event. They do have a love affair with the competition; only Barcelona have lifted the trophy on more occasions. They've won the Copa del Rey 23 times, including the first two editions. This is the seventh final since they last won it back in 1984.

Remember they reached the final in successive years. The 2020 final against Real Sociedad was delayed by 350 days to try to beat the pandemic. Athletic lost to their north country rivals and returned 14 days later to be soundly beaten by Barcelona. Athletic are the bigger club and rightly start the game as favourites.

Mallorca's route to Estadio La Cartuja has been an adventure. They beat rival holiday islanders Tenerife in the 120th minute, edged team-of-the-season Girona and beat Real Sociedad with a 5-4 penalty shootout victory. They've also been on a heady journey since the glory days of the 90s and noughties when they were competitors in La Liga as well as regulars at Copa finals and in European competitions.

They dipped down to the third tier, faced extinction and have been saved by an American consortium. Retired NBA stars Steve Nash and Steve Kerr call the shots alongside former tennis professional Andy Kohlberg.

Together, they've brought pride back to the Balearics. Most of the squad were born on the island - and this will be the biggest day of their careers.

Of course, every Athletic player must have Basque heritage and they take playing for the team badge to another level: they're playing for the ikurriña, the region's flag. There is so much pride and tradition at the San Mamés. One thing is missing though – a major trophy. They did win the Super Cup in 2015 and 2021 but you need to go back to 1984 for the last domestic major.

So the scene is set; it has the feel of an international fixture with fans flying hundreds of miles to revel in the day. Only one side will emerge as winners and bask in the celebrations but at least they will go on honeymoon together - both cup finalists receive an invitation to the Spanish Super Cup which is held in Saudi Arabia in January.

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