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Benzema will be missing where Muniain reigns supreme


Thursday night has a great game lined up for us at San Mamés. Our retinas still have the imprint of that impressive clash between Athletic and Barça in the previous round, one of those matches that survive the test of time.

Maybe I'm wrong, but in that one I thought I saw the old Athletic energy reborn in a fresh crop, especially Nico Williams, who that day was among the first teamers, and in others not so new such as the all conquering Raúl García and the colossal Iker Muniain. In so many years watching football, there are few times where we see a player take the stage, the ball, a goal, the whole essence of football, as much as Muniain did against Barça. That night I saw Athletic Club. The real Athletic Club.

San Mamés
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San Mamés, Madrid and the cup

Now it’s Real Madrid coming up against them, a team whose presence has always made people's ears prick up at San Mamés. José María Arrate, one of the great club presidents, told me yesterday. "When Madrid came, my father used to wear a tie to go to San Mamés.” It reminded me of the respect with which my father and brother used to talk to me about Carmelo, Garay and Gaínza, with an almost saint-like esteem.

Nothing stirs Athletic's heart like the Copa del Rey and Real Madrid, while at the same time I dare say that for all the Madrid players I have dealt with (from Gento until now) San Mamés is one of the favourite venues.

No Benzema for ‘beloved’ Athletic clash

Karim Benzema received his most recent standing ovation in this stadium, proof of what I am saying. He won't be there today, as he continues his recovery.

San Mamés on the inside
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San Mamés on the insideJUAN FLORDIARIO AS

Those away in the Americas will, however, be there, thanks to the fact that the Federation moved the date of the match. Tired and jet-lagged, but they will be there. Last night Rayo were missing Falcao, Mallorca had Kubo on the bench after a long trip (he played only 10 minutes), Cádiz were missing Lozano, Alarcón and Arzamendia, and Valencia were missing Musah. But their games aren’t the same. And I say this not to be controversial, but as a basis for reflection.

These travel issues don't happen to Athletic, of course, as their players are all home-grown. A unique case in world football, said L'Équipe. That is the strength of the old and beloved Athletic Club.