Barca-Real rivalry spills into Copa del Rey final

The rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona has spilled into the Copa del Rey final, a match in which Madrid isn't even playing. (Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP)

MADRID — The rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona has spilled into the Copa del Rey final, a match in which Madrid isn’t even playing.

Barcelona will face Sevilla in the final in May, but the discussion in Spain is about whether Real Madrid will allow the game to be played at its Santiago Bernabeu Stadium or force officials to choose a different venue.

Barcelona and Sevilla want the match at the Bernabeu, which is the biggest neutral ground, and would generate greater revenue. But Real Madrid’s past decisions, and silence on the issue so far, suggest it wants nothing to do with the final, in hope of avoiding the risk of seeing its biggest rival celebrating a title on its ground.

"We want to play in the biggest stadium possible, which will be good for our fans and for our rival’s fans," Barcelona vice-president Carles Vilarrubi said. "We want to play in the stadium which has the best conditions and best logistics for a game of this magnitude."

Madrid hasn’t officially made any comments about the subject, neither opposing the game at the Bernabeu nor saying it wouldn’t have a problem with it. The club says there hasn’t been any official request from the Spanish soccer federation asking to play the final at its venue.

It’s clear most Madrid fans don’t want to see Barcelona winning a trophy in their stadium again, as happened in 1997 in the Copa del Rey final against Real Betis. Barcelona supporters filled the Bernabeu wearing their team’s colours, and players lifted the trophy with the club’s hymn being played loudly through the stadium’s speakers.

"It’s normal that Madrid fans don’t want to see Barcelona win at the Bernabeu, and if you ask Barcelona fans, I’m sure that they wouldn’t want to see Real Madrid winning at (the Camp Nou)," Madrid coach and former player Zinedine Zidane said Friday. "To me it doesn’t matter if Barcelona wins the final at the Bernabeu. I will watch the game because I like football, it doesn’t matter who wins it."

Earlier this year, Barcelona routed Real Madrid 4-0 at the Bernabeu in the Spanish league, a result that ignited a crisis that led to coach Rafa Benitez being replaced by Zidane.

The 1997 final was the last one Barcelona played at the Bernabeu. Real Madrid lost two Copa finals there — to Atletico Madrid in 2013 and to Deportivo La Coruna in 2002. When Real Madrid and Barcelona met in the 2014 final, it was played at Mestalla Stadium in Valencia.

"Real Madrid is scared of seeing Barcelona lift the trophy," outspoken former Barcelona president Joan Gaspart told local media. "If that’s the reason, the club needs to say it, it needs to explain itself."

Last year, Madrid said the Bernabeu could not be used for the final between Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao because renovation work was needed at the stadium.

If Madrid again denies a request to play at the Bernabeu, the final would likely happen at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon Stadium, which isn’t as modern and has a capacity of only 55,000, about 30,000 less than the Bernabeu. It could also take place at Mestalla again.

The Copa del Rey is Spain’s second-most important tournament, after the Spanish league.

"The Copa final has to be played in a very big stadium so a greater number of fans can attend it, and I hope that this year it takes place at the Bernabeu," said Javier Tebas, president of the Spanish league. "But this is a decision that needs to be made by the clubs and I won’t criticize it."

Meetings to discuss the final venue are expected to take place next week. The finalists will try to reach an agreement, and the Spanish federation then will make an official request to the stadium owner, which is not obligated to accept it.

"If the clubs decide to play in Madrid, either at the Vicente Calderon or the Santiago Bernabeu, it will be fine," said Spain national team coach Vicente del Bosque, calling for "generosity and flexibility" in the decision-making process.

The date of the final also hasn’t been determined. It was originally scheduled for May 21, but it could be changed if Sevilla makes it to the Europa League final on May 18.

The final is almost always in a neutral venue, but last year it took place at the Camp Nou even though Barcelona was involved, and in 2013 it was at the Bernabeu when Madrid faced Atletico.

"I would rather play in China than at the Camp Nou," Sevilla coach Unai Emery said. "That would be like giving them another (Lionel) Messi. I hope it doesn’t happen."