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The incomparable magic of the cup


The Copa del Rey dances to a different tune than La Liga, producing instant drama. Some of it has been as surprising as Real Madrid’s ejection from the competition, for not having someone to oversee the necessary paperwork. Others have been nobler, such as the match that unfolded on Wednesday night in the Calderón, where Diego Simeone’s side suffered the disappointment of a 2-3 loss that ended their hopes of another Copa title. Simeone had identified this competition as the best chance of silverware this season but Celta had other ideas. Watching the match, it seemed to me that Celta went through because they wanted it more. They arrived at the Calderón fired up and that’s why they beat Atlético.

Celta were seen off from Vigo by fans with flares and the transfer of club captain Augusto Fernández to Atlético served as an affront to be avenged; the daily possibility of Nolito leaving for Barcelona also served to unite the club and fans. Celta went out with the sole purpose of ending a run of many years without a Copa semi-final. The memory of the loss on penalties to Zaragoza in the 1994 final played at the Calderón was ever-present. It all served as moral fuel for a side that can play football and who tripped up an Atlético team that felt themselves to be more the favourites than they indeed were. So many games without conceding at home gave Atlético the false sense of security that the 0-0 draw in Balaídos was a failsafe. But Celta were having none of it and put three past Atlético in the Calderón for the first time on over a year.

Athletic Bilbao also arrived at Camp Nou extremely motivated. The Copa del Rey is the club’s favourite tournament and Aritz Aduriz’s late equalizer in San Mamés had given Athletic a lifeline. The visitors played well in the first half, scoring and creating a few good chances. Barcelona’s performance levels drop off when they are not able to put out their habitual starting 11 and it was evident again on Wednesday. But beating Barcelona by two goals in Camp Nou was too great a task. Neymar gave Barça a lift with his goal and Sergio Busquets came off the bench into the midfield to reorganize the team, while Athletic began to tire. For half the match the visitors dreamed of pulling off the feat but in the end Barcelona were too strong. That’s the magic of the cup. And there’s more to come on Thursday night.