MADRID (Reuters) - Alaves have fallen on hard times since losing 5-4 to Liverpool in a thrilling UEFA Cup final in 2001 and the Basque club have a chance to revive past glories when they host holders Barcelona in the King’s Cup on Tuesday.
Now down in Spain’s third tier after slipping into financial administration, Alaves’s typical opponents these days include the B teams of several top-flight sides rather than the giants of European soccer.
Their run to the UEFA Cup final won many admirers as a team including Jordi Cruyff, Javi Moreno and Ivan Alonso dispatched Inter Milan and Kaiserslautern before falling to Liverpool after an own goal from full back Delfi Geli four minutes from the end of extra time.
While some fans gathered at the club’s Mendizorroza stadium for Tuesday’s last-32, first leg may be looking forward to seeing their heroes take on the likes of Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi will not be travelling to Vitoria.
Barca coach Tito Vilanova has left the World Player of the Year out of his squad and also rested the Spain quartet of playmaker Xavi, forward Pedro, full back Jordi Alba and goalkeeper Victor Valdes.
Their international team mates Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique are still out injured while fellow centre back Javier Mascherano comes back into the squad after missing Saturday’s 5-0 La Liga win at Rayo Vallecano through suspension.
“I am approaching this game with the most competitive team we can put together to get a good result,” said Vilanova who is in his first season in charge at the Nou Camp.
“I am not approaching it to give time on the pitch to less experienced players,” he told a news conference on Monday.
“Nonetheless it’s true we have had quite a few injured players who are starting to come back and that we are leaving five footballers behind in Barcelona who have possibly played the most minutes this season.”
Alaves coach Natxo Gonzalez, whose defensive tactics Vilanova said he admired, issued a warning to his players after his side’s 1-0 league win at Logrones at the weekend.
“If you go out and try to enjoy playing Barca they’ll put 10 goals past you,” he said.
“We have to go out on the pitch prepared to win. I am convinced we can do it and my mission is to transmit that conviction to the players so they believe it while also knowing that it’s going to be very tough.”
The last time Alaves faced Barcelona in the King’s Cup, a 5-2 aggregate defeat in the last 16 in January 2007 when Javier Saviola scored all five goals for the opposition, they had just been relegated to the second division.
The format of the earlier rounds makes it extremely difficult for lower-ranked sides to progress as the first leg is played at their stadiums, giving the big guns home advantage for the return match.
Many believe this robs the competition of much of the romance of the David against Goliath upsets that have added to the allure of equivalent competitions in England, Germany, Italy and France.
Some shocks do still occur. Mirandes reached the semi-finals last season and fellow third-tier side Alcorcon, now in the second division, knocked out Real Madrid 4-1 on aggregate three years ago.
A number of minnows have a chance to deal a blow to more illustrious rivals this week with Alcoyano hosting Real Madrid on Wednesday and Jaen at home to Atletico Madrid the same day.
Llagostera play Valencia on Tuesday and Eibar are at home to 2012 runners-up Athletic Bilbao on Thursday.
There are four all-La Liga clashes with Real Zaragoza hosting Granada, Real Valladolid at home to Real Betis, Sevilla welcoming Espanyol and Deportivo Coruna entertaining Real Mallorca.
Local hero and Real Madrid fan Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former tennis world number one who retired last week, will perform the honorary kickoff at Valencia-based Alcoyano’s match against Jose Mourinho’s side, King’s Cup winners in 2011. (Editing by Tony Jimenez)