Few surprises, and fewer to come

Lower league sides do what they can in King’s Cup, but format favors the gold

Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema bows his head during the cup match at Olímpic de Xàtiva.
Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema bows his head during the cup match at Olímpic de Xàtiva. JOSé JORDáN (AFP)

Fortune largely smiled on the Primera División clubs in the last-32 round of matches of the 2013-14 King’s Cup at the weekend, only Levante falling to lower-league opposition in the shape of Recreativo de Huelva. There were a few scares — Barcelona going 1-0 down in Cartagena raised the specter of a third straight defeat for the Catalans — and a couple of valiant ties, but the status quo was more or less maintained. In any case, most of the closer results to keep options open were achieved in the home stadiums of Segunda and Segunda B sides, and should be overturned in the return matches without too much trouble.

Recre’s 1-0 win over Levante came courtesy of a last-gasp strike by defender Ruymán after a match in which both teams were equally matched despite the difference in division. Unfortunately for the home side, almost nobody was there to witness it: 1,068 fans turned up at Recre’s 20,000-capacity stadium to watch the match, suggesting that more will have to be done by the RFEF federation to generate interest in a competition that is about as welcome in most corners of Spain as a tax inspector.

Had any of Girona’s fans showed up for their side’s match against Getafe, they would have seen their players mix it up in style with the 7th-placed Primera side, which earned a 1-1 tie through an acrobatic overhead strike by Romania international striker Ciprian. Cue delight from the 15 or so traveling fans.

It is clear that unless your club draws Real, Madrid or Barcelona, or maybe an Atlético, Valencia or Sevilla-sized opponent, the cup needs a revamp to make it relevant again for the vast majority of Spain. A draw that pits any remaining Tercera and Segunda B teams in the round of 32 against the Primera teams playing in Europe does the competition’s credibility little good, while the two-legged system makes a genuine upset even less likely.

The English FA Cup retains much of its romance precisely because the favorites can be drawn together early

Third-division Olímpic de Xàtiva — annual budget 400,00 euros — held Real Madrid — annual budget 500 million — to a 0-0 tie in La Murta, a remarkable result for a semi-professional team. Had it gone to extra time and penalties under a single-match format, who knows what might have transpired? Now that Olímpic must travel to the Bernabéu for the return match, the result is hardly in doubt.

The English FA Cup retains much of its romance precisely because the favorites for the title can be drawn together as early as the third round, in a one-match situation (although a replay is used in the event of a tie). Last season’s winner, Wigan Athletic, was relegated to the Championship at the end of the season but still beat mighty Manchester City in the cup final.

In Spain, it’s pretty difficult to envisage anything much other than a clásico, or one of Real or Barça facing an Atlético or Athletic in the final. It is a fundamental flaw in a tournament that has the ability to throw up some general purpose amusement — Alcorcón-Real Madrid in 2009, or the Miracle of Mirandés two seasons later — but which seems to go out of its way to snuff out any sense of the unexpected.

Still, the teams cannot be blamed entirely for the state of the nation’s only cup competition, and can only beat what is put in front of them. Thus did Atlético — 0-4 at Sant Andreu — and Barcelona, which recovered from a goal down to pop the same number past Cartagena, both teams that ply their trade in the third tier.

Algeciras, also a Segunda B side, held Real Sociedad 1-1 and had a legitimate goal ruled offside; a simple enough decision that nonetheless may have robbed the competition of a possible fairy tale.

Other results, King’s Cup last 32: Lleida 1-2 Betis; Villarreal 2-2 Elche; Racing 0-1 Sevilla; Valladolid 0-0 Rayo; Celta 1-0 Athletic; Alcorcón 0-2 Granada.

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