King's Cup proves poisoned chalice

Heads roll as Villarreal, Atlético, Zaragoza and Betis fall to lower-league teams

Spanish soccer's final act of 2011, the second leg of the King's Cup round of 32, produced as many heroes as villains and resulted in the sacking of two key Liga names.

Juan Carlos Garrido, the beleaguered coach of Villarreal, was relieved of his post after Mirandés, the current leader of Segunda División B Group II, eliminated the top-flight side from the competition in a 2-0 away victory at El Madrigal. The result brought to a close a woeful run of results that has left Villarreal hovering above the relegation places - only a goal difference one better than Sporting has prevented it from sinking into the drop zone - and bundled out of the Champions League after six straight defeats.

Garrido has not been helped by injuries to key players, but guiding a team accustomed to challenging for the top four and competing in Europe's premier club competition toward a relegation dogfight could only entertain a single response.

Atlético Madrid also crashed out of the cup to lower league opposition, Segunda B side Albacete, of which Andrés Iniesta recently became the majority shareholder. The Manchegan club beat Gregorio Manzano's side 2-0 over the two legs and "the professor" was duly sacked on Thursday. "We've hit rock bottom. There are no adjectives we can find to explain that this is a great disappointment and a disaster," Manzano said after the game.

Atlético president Enrique Cerezo hosted a two-hour board meeting with Manzano's representative in attendance on Wednesday evening. "Nobody wants to witness two hours in the Calderón like tonight's. The sporting situation is bad and tomorrow we will try to straighten out the direction of a team that everybody saw on television is really terrible," he said on Cope radio. On Thursday, the board voted unanimously to dispense with Manzano. "The club will now focus on completing the hiring of a coach to lead the first team," Atlético said in a statement.

Former Argentina and Atlético player Diego Simeone is expected to be installed at the Calderón, while Míchel, the former coach of Getafe, has been clumsily courting any and every Liga club since he departed the southern Madrid suburb.

"I would like to train a team without a coach and, logically, I hope Villarreal will be an option in the future as they are currently without a coach," he said on Thursday. "But at the end of the day the decision is not mine."

Slightly less surprising was Alcorcón's 3-1 aggregate victory over Primera proppers-up Zaragoza, which is enduring a miserable season exacerbated by crippling debt. The Aragonese side has 10 points from 16 games and last won a match more than two months ago.

Alcorcón, a humble second division side also from the southern expanse of the capital, shot to international stardom two seasons ago when in the third tier by thrashing a strong Real Madrid side 4-0 in the first leg of the round of 32, then conceding just one on the return at the Bernabéu.

The Alcorcónazo passed into legend and was one of the reasons Manuel Pellegrini was handed his pink slip by an unamused Florentino Pérez. Zaragoza in its current state presented an easier task for the giant-killing Alcorcón, but the Blanquillos' recent pedigree in the competition is impressive: winners in 2001 and 2004 and finalists in 2006.

Another Primera side to fall to lower-league opponents was Real Betis, beaten on the away goals rule 2-2 by second division Córdoba. "Now we want to get one of the big boys," said Córdoba coach Paco Jémez, rubbing salt into Sevillian wounds.

Other aggregate results: Oviedo 0-2 Athletic; R. Madrid 5-1 Ponferradina; Depor 4-5 Levante; Almería 2-4 Osasuna; Celta 2-4 Espanyol; Sporting 1-2 Mallorca; Rayo 6-6 Racing [Racing wins on away goals]; Getafe 2-3 Málaga; R. Sociedad 5-3 Granada; San Roque 1-3 Sevilla.

Manzano gives instructions to his players in Atlético's loss to Albacete.
Manzano gives instructions to his players in Atlético's loss to Albacete.BALLESTEROS (EFE)

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