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SEVILLE: Athletic Bilbao’s players celebrate victory with the Copa del Rey trophy at the end of the Spanish Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) final football match between Athletic Club Bilbao and RCD Mallorca at La Cartuja stadium in Seville on April 6, 2024. – AFP
SEVILLE: Athletic Bilbao’s players celebrate victory with the Copa del Rey trophy at the end of the Spanish Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) final football match between Athletic Club Bilbao and RCD Mallorca at La Cartuja stadium in Seville on April 6, 2024. – AFP
Athletic beat Mallorca on penalties to win Copa del Rey
Berenguer strokes home the winning penalty to spark wild celebrations

SEVILLE: Athletic Bilbao ended a 40-year wait to win the Copa del Rey by beating Real Mallorca 4-2 on penalties on Saturday following a 1-1 draw after extra time. The Basque side lifted the trophy for the 24th time, behind only 31-time winners Barcelona, as they edged underdogs Mallorca at La Cartuja stadium in Seville.

Dani Rodriguez sent Mallorca ahead in the first half but Oihan Sancet levelled soon after the break and the sides could not be separated until penalties. Athletic goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala saved Manu Morlanes’ penalty and Mallorca’s Nemanja Radonjic lashed another spot kick over the bar, with Athletic converting all four of theirs to triumph.

Alex Berenguer stroked home the winning penalty to spark wild celebrations among the hordes of travelling Basque support. Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic, defeated in their six previous appearances in the final, brought an era of almosts to a close with a hard-fought win. Having beaten Barcelona and Atletico Madrid en route to the final, Los Leones were able to secure the club’s first major trophy since a domestic league and cup double in 1984. “This is incredible, we’ve made history,” man-of-the-match Nico Williams told TVE.

“The team worked hard, the fans are always with us and they deserve it, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time.” Athletic, whose players celebrated on a boat known as the ‘Gabarra’ after they last won it, will now get the chance to launch the barge once again next week.

“I’m so excited (for that), I am so happy, this is the club of my life,” added the Spanish winger, who taunted Mallorca with his dribbling all night. Mallorca, winners in 2003, had started the stronger and target man Vedat Muriqi’s long-range effort was tipped over uncertainly by Agirrezabala.

In the final for the fourth time, the islanders took the lead after 21 minutes through Rodriguez’s perfectly placed finish. After Giovanni Gonzalez’s shot was blocked and Jose Copete’s effort was saved, Rodriguez carefully placed the ball into the top corner, past Athletic’s Dani Vivian on the line.

Nico’s night

When Los Leones did create anything it came from the outstanding Nico Williams, and he slotted home after 39 minutes but was offside. Yuri Berchiche blocked well to deny Copete as Mallorca had a sight of goal for their second, before Nico Williams fired into the side netting after breaking into the area.

Agirrezabala thwarted Canada international Cyle Larin early in the second half before Athletic found the equaliser. Again Nico Williams was heavily involved, sliding a pass into the box for Sancet to gleefully stroke beyond Mallorca goalkeeper Dominik Greif to delight Athletic’s raucous travelling support.

A brilliant dribble by Nico Williams almost helped the Basques take the lead but his cross flashed through his brother Inaki Williams’ legs, with the Ghana international unable to react in time to finish. Greif beat away a Vivian piledriver late on and Gorka Guruzeta headed narrowly wide, but the teams could not be split before extra time.

Nico Williams had a shot from close range brilliantly deflected wide by the lunging Pablo Maffeo after 111 minutes. At the other end Agirrezabala was alert to shovel away Muriqi’s header, with the Kosovo striker sporting a large bandage after a painful clash of heads with Unai Gomez. What followed in the shoot-out was more painful still for Muriqi, who converted his penalty but his team-mates could not follow suit. “I’m emotional because I’m proud of my team-mates and of the fans who came here,” Rodriguez told TVE. “It was a dream to lift this cup and we tried until the end.” — AFP

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