Athletic Club Dreaming Of Cup Glory
Athletic Club were once known as the Kings of the Cup. In 1903 the Lions lifted the very first Copa del Rey trophy and would go on to win the title a total of 24 times with the last coming back in 1984 when the Basques did the double. Since then, however, Athletic have been unable to replicate the same level of success.
Over time Barcelona would eventually surpass Athletic with 30 Cup titles, though the Basques have had opportunities to earn the crown again. The Lions have made it to four finals since 1984, falling short each time, but this season they may be closer than ever to touching silverware.
The new Copa del Rey format, which changed two-legged ties to single elimination rounds, has brought excitement to the tournament like never before. Smaller clubs have had more opportunities to advance in the Cup and the results have been extraordinary. With so many surprise upsets happening each week Athletic’s run to the semifinals has had its fair share of drama.
Opening matches against Intercity and Sestao River posed little threat to the Basques who cruised to victory in both. Although, the third round trip to Elche was a different story. Athletic were pushed to the brink and had to survive a penalty shootout to advance. The following week, an early red card and penalty put Gaizka Garitano’s side in an even more precarious position but the team managed to fight back and take the game to penalties where they won yet again.
As Athletic took the field on Thursday night for the quarterfinal against Barcelona there was a feeling of confidence and belief that permeated the streets of Bilbao. Other tops clubs like Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Sevilla, Villarreal, and defending champions Valencia had all been eliminated. A win would put the Zurigorri into the semifinals and the match at San Mamés had the incredible atmosphere of a final.
Athletic did the unthinkable as Iñaki Williams scored a stoppage time header to lift Athletic to victory. With Barcelona and others eliminated from the Cup the title felt within reach, but there’s still work to do. Athletic have been drawn against Granada for the semifinals, which will be played over two legs, and the Zurigorri must win the tie to earn their place in the final.
The field has narrowed and only four remain. Athletic, the players, and the fans can already imagine lifting the Copa del Rey trophy on 18 April. For the first time in 35 years winning the Cup feels like a real possibility, a dream that can be made into reality, but the Lions can’t afford to look too far ahead. Granada will visit San Mamés on Wednesday night for the first leg of the semifinals and Athletic must treat this match like a final as well if they want the chance to play for the real prize at La Cartuja.