With the league title slipping away from Real Madrid’s hands, their two cup competitions, the UEFA Champions League and the Copa del Rey, could be the tournaments that they can realistically expect to win. Real can stamp its name in the final of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday night if they can navigate a more than tricky second leg tie against the current holders of the cup, Sevilla.
Real leads the semifinal tie 1-0 after nicking a crucial away goal at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in the first leg. The win for los blancos was significant, but the actual result took a backseat because of two incidents in that game dominated the talk afterward: Luís Fabiano’s disallowed goal and Iker Casillas’ bottle incident.
Concerning Fabiano’s shot on the line just before halftime, several different angles and thousands of super slow-motion replays still have not conclusively rendered a definitive answer as to whether or not the whole ball crossed the whole of the goal line. Fermín Martínez Ibáñez, the linesman who made the pivotal and fateful call (or non-call as it were), should receive credit for the situation because referees and linesman are always taught to make a decision only if they are 100%, and it was not clear if Fabiano scored. In addition, it would have been easy for Martínez Ibáñez to cave into the ravenous and vociferous Sevillista crowd, but he stuck to his convictions and made the call he felt was correct (although now some have now considered him another covert agent for the Real Madrid cause).
Despite the disputed goal/no goal from Fabiano and the general hot-blooded, robust tension throughout the match, there is no excuse for supporters to throw missiles onto the pitch, and after the final whistle blew, someone in the crowd through a bottle and hit Iker Casillas flush on the back of his head. Luckily, the missile was merely a plastic bottle and not an object with more mass, but regardless of what was thrown, the RFEF (the Spanish football governing body), was disgusted with what happened and handed Sevilla a €6,000 fine and stern threats about stadium closure if similar incidents occur in the future.
Hopefully, the second leg will be about only the football and not about ancillary incidents or refereeing decisions. Emmanuel Adebayor is expected to make his home debut at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu for Real, and after Real unexpectedly lost at Pamplona to Osasuna in the league on Sunday, José Mourinho and his players would want nothing more than to make their first Copa del Rey final since 2004 and possibly win it for the first time since 1993.
For Sevilla, new January signings Gary Medel and Ivan Rakitic could make their debuts in the match, and apart from the suspended Andrés Palop and the long-term injured Tiberio Guarente and Ivica Dragutinovic, Sevilla trainer Gregorio Manzano will have a full squad from which to choose his starting eleven. Should Sevilla overturn the tie and reach the final, it would be the first time in their long history that they would have advanced to the Copa del Rey final in consecutive years.
Preceding the Real Madrid – Sevilla match is the other second leg semifinal between Almería and FC Barcelona, almost forgotten by everyone because Barcelona holds a 5-0 advantage from their home leg, and Barça scored eight without reply the last time they visited the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos in November.
With the hectic schedule Barcelona has had and what they will have in the next month or two, Pep Guardiola will likely rest most of his normal starting eleven. Guardiola has not implemented a rotation-type system like most top European clubs, so the likes of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Villa, etc. have played nearly all of Barcelona’s matches in all competitions. Guardiola has said all the right things, stating that this tie is still alive and that he will not take this match lightly, but if his top guns make more than short substitute stints late in the match, it would be very surprising.
Almería trainer José Luis Oltra jokingly proclaimed to the media in Tuesday’s press conference how he had his team practice penalties just in case they overturn their five-goal deficit, but his focus has turned more toward this weekend against Espanyol:
“We must take it as a challenge, and we want to win. We, by the way, have been practicing penalties, but, hey, that is not our goal. Our big game and our final is on Saturday, [against Espanyol] but the match against Barcelona has many attractions. Our challenge [on Wednesday] simply is to win.”
It will be interesting if Oltra does send out his best players, including Pablo Piatti, Kalu Uche, Albert Crusat, etc., but whatever decision he makes concerning his starting eleven, it will make no difference as Barcelona should be in the Copa del Rey final on April 20. As Oltra said, this match for Almería is about pride.
Almería vs. FC Barcelona – 1:55 PM on Gol TV HD
Real Madrid vs. Sevilla – 3:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3