Both are struggling for the Basque Country identity, both of whom have not won the title in more than three decades, and neither wants to miss a golden opportunity to win the King's Cup • Athletic Bilbao (tonight against Granada) and Real Sociedad (tomorrow against Miranda) are dreaming big - and this time can also be fulfilled
Sociedad players madly
The Spanish Cup semi-finals kicked off tonight, when for the first time in a decade Real Madrid and Barcelona are not among the last four. It's a big story - after all, it's two that won the last eight of the 11 trophies - but it's not the biggest story.
The title of the King's Cup 2020 is made up of the teams that ousted both empires - Basque Athletic Representative Bilbao and Real Sociedad. When added to the second-tier Miranda equation, 80 miles from Bilbao, which holds quite a few Basque players and Athletic Sergeant Andrey Iraola, a semi-final is a showcase for Basque football.
Once upon a time, this showcase was packed with titles and successes. Bilbao won eight Spanish championships and 23 trophies, but in both cases the last time was in 1984. Sociedad has two championships and two trophies, with drought lasting since 1987. They were a significant force in Spanish football, but then came into the picture Bosman Law, Globalization of the Game and Big Money.
While teams began acquiring players at astronomical prices, an emphasis on Barca and Real, Bilbao and Sociad zealously struggled for the Basque identity of the team. Athletic, as it is known, has always accepted only Basque-rooted players, which is a land of some 3 million inhabitants, while Sociedad has allowed players from outside Spain, but has tried to keep all Spaniards on the roster. For 35 years, from 2002 to 1967, it really was. But by then, Sergio Boris came from the Astoria region, which became the first non-Basque Spaniard in the group in three and a half decades. Since then, another 18 have arrived, with the current roster having only two: goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya, and Porto.
Inike Williams. Bilbao heroes // Photo: IP
The decision of the Basque groups to differentiate themselves from Spain - which is due to cultural-political considerations and even to the belief that the Basque gardens are different from those of the ordinary European man - gives unique groups and a different status, but in recent years also harms achievement.
Bilbao has never dropped to the second league, but in recent years it has been close to that more than once. In the past decade, Sociad spent three seasons in the second league, and both have not won the title since the mid-1980s. "This win is so important to me in so many ways," said Sociedad Immanul Algavasil after 3: 4 on Real Madrid in the quarterfinals, "because I'm from here, from the city of Orio (in the Basque region), because it's my home and because there's so much here Young local players who looked at Real Madrid in the eyes.
Long live the new format
"I have been dreaming of raising a trophy with this team for many, many years, but it has always been just a fantasy," added captain Bilbao Erich Adoris, who is expected to retire at the end of the season, "and truthfully, we are tired of Barcelona and Real Madrid winning all possible titles."
As the veteran striker conceded in the same interview to "Peneca," the new trophy format - which includes one non-knockout game until the semi-finals - is part of the Basque success. "It gave dynamism to the games," he said, and that dynamic just used Bilbao to oust Barcelona at San Mames Stadium.
But this is not the only format. The athlete, besides tremendous pride and tradition, has a wonderful roster this season with players like Inike Williams, Ender Kappa, Iker Muniain, Raul Garcia and Annie Simone. Sociedad has its Basque stars, Mikkel Oyarsbal and Hosba Saldua, joined by talents like Norwegian Martin Odgor (belonging to Real Madrid), Swedish Alexander Isak who hails from Dortmund and Porto, a native of Murcia. Both have a Basque - Algavasil coach on the side of Sociad, and Gaiska Gritano at Bilbao. After meeting Saturday in a league for a busy Basque derby that ended in 1: 2 for Sociad, Gritano admitted: "The trophy is the only thing that interests us right now - we go all out with it."
Bilbao and Sociedad present a different philosophy when it comes to the identity of the players on the roster, but both proudly represent Basque football and the character of the place and its people. The wins over Real and Barca were a defining moment for them and for the country, and even before the semi-finals against Granada and Mirandes, the expectation of meeting them in the finals is tremendous. "I wish it would happen, it will be historic, a blast, something unforgettable," said former Sociad player Chavey Frito. "It's nice that those teams don't always make it to the finals, and it will be even more beautiful if you swing the Basque team at the end of the Basque ".