Finely balanced as Valencia and Athletic look to book cup final appearance
Madrid: The first finalist of Spain’s Copa del Rey knockout tournament will be decided on Wednesday in Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium when the home side entertains Athletic Bilbao.
The tie is finely balanced after Valencia’s Hugo Duro cancelled out Raul Garcia’s opener for Athletic in Bilbao three weeks ago, and the visitors can expect a hostile reception as they look to qualify for their third consecutive final.
Valencia last won the cup in 2019 after beating FC Barcelona, and the man behind that win, Marcelino Garcia Toral, is now at the helm of Athletic.
Although Valencia have a slight advantage, they will do well to remember that Athletic reached the 2021 and 2015 finals after being held 1-1 in the first leg, while the fact that away goals are no longer used as a tiebreak in the event of a draw means that Valencia can’t sit back and look to run down the clock as they did in the first leg, reports Xinhua.
Valencia have the advantage of 30 hours extra to prepare for the game (something they also had in the first leg) after playing Real Mallorca on Saturday lunchtime, while Athletic didn’t play their weekend game against Barcelona until Sunday night.
The return of Gabriel Paulista to the heart of the Valencia defense is a boost for coach Jose Bordalas, who still has doubts over the fitness of full-backs Jose Luis Gaya and Thierry Correia.
Marcelino rested most of his first-team regulars on Sunday but will be at full strength in Valencia, with Nico Williams and Unai Vencedor, who both missed the first leg with hamstring problems, fully fit and available.
Williams is likely to start on the bench with Alex Berenguer on the right of midfield, while the doubt is whether Yeray Alvarez or Dani Vivian will partner Inigo Martinez in the heart of the Athletic defense.
Gil Manzano will be the referee and Athletic will be looking for him to clamp down on the numerous fouls and delays that Valencia relied on to break up the play in the first leg, but it is likely to be a tense affair as most games of this importance tend to be.