Athletic Bilbao’s forebear Vizcaya de Bilbao contested the first Copa del Rey against Barcelona in 1903, returning north from the capital with the trophy in its possession. The same two teams contested the most recent, which Barcelona won 3-0, again in Madrid. In all, Barcelona and Athletic have won 26 and 23 titles respectively, far more than any other match-up in the competition can boast.
The nearest challengers are Real Madrid and Atlético, with 18 and nine apiece. The two sides have not played each other in a derby-day final since 1992, when Atlético left the Bernabéu with the trophy after a 2-0 victory. Real won the cup the following year but suffered an 18-year hiatus between that victory over Zaragoza and José Mourinho claiming his first title with the club in a 1-0 win over Barcelona in 2011. Atlético last lifted the Copa del Rey in 1996, also after beating Barcelona 1-0, and despite three final appearances in the interim has yet to add its own décima to the Calderón cabinet.
One of the two capital city rivals will be crowned champion this Friday night (TVE-1, 9.30pm) — or possibly on Saturday morning, if extra time and penalties are required. Should Real win, it will likely bring Mourinho’s tenure at the club full circle. The Portuguese coach has failed to deliver Real’s décima — the tenth European Cup — and it seems inevitable he will leave the club in the summer. In his three years in charge, Mourinho has won the league, cup and Spanish Supercup.
For Diego Simeone, a member of Atlético’s 1996 league and cup-winning team, the final represents a chance to claim his third triumph as Atlético coach. In 18 months, the Argentinean has led the rojiblancos to a Europa League title (with a nod to Simeone’s predecessor Gregorio Manzano) and a European Supercup. History, though, does not bode well for Atlético, whose current bogey number is 14 — it last beat Real in 1999.
Obviously, the statistics are there, but we're in form and have a chance" Atlético's Diego Godín
“We aren’t looking backward,” Atlético defender Diego Godín said ahead of the match. “Obviously the statistics of how many times they have beaten us are there, but we are in a good run of form and have the same desire and chances to win as they do.” Atlético has the tournament’s top scorer in combustible Brazil forward Diego Costa, who has netted seven times, and Radamel Falcao is back in voracious form. Simeone has no injury concerns and can field his best 11 in the Bernabéu, including Turkish trickster Arda Turan, a vital cog in Atlético’s attacking machinery.
Real, meanwhile, must contend with the loss of Raphaël Varane at the heart of its defense — although the France star was not required from the start when Real beat Atlético in the Calderón three weeks ago. Cristiano Ronaldo was rested entirely for that 2-1 win, as was Sergio Ramos, while Xabi Alonso made a substitute appearance alongside Luka Modric, who may start on Friday in place of Ángel di María after a series of fine performances by the Croat and despite the Argentinean tormenting Atlético in the recent league match.
The choice of venue was eventually backed by Atlético on the basis that each side can cram 40,000 supporters into Real’s lair. Whatever the outcome, it should be a worthy addition to the history of the cup.