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Led by the man who helped stop them last time, Mirandes are dreaming big again

Led by the man who helped stop them last time, Mirandes are dreaming big again

13/02/2020 at 17:49Updated 14/02/2020 at 04:33

From a tiny town in Northern Spain, CD Mirandes are looking to make history in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey. At least they would be, had they not been here before…

Everybody loves a cup underdog. The plucky side who shock the big guns and battle their way into the latter stages of a competition and into the national consciousness.

It’s the reason people still get sucked into cup football, even if that allure appears to be becoming fainter and fainter as domestic leagues and European competitions strengthen their financial grip on football.

But in some regards that financial imbalance is part of what keeps cup football alive, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for new faces to get a seat at the top table with the money being weighted more and more to the clubs who are already powerful.

Yet when cup football starts everyone is even, everyone has a chance to dream of glory, no matter how improbable it may be.

On Thursday one such dream will continue, as Mirandes travel to the Basque country to face La Liga high-flyers Real Sociedad.

Players of CD Mirandes poses on team's line up prior to the Copa del Rey Quarter Final match between CD Mirandes and Villarreal CF at Estadio de Anduva on February 05, 2020 in Miranda de Ebro, Spain

Players of CD Mirandes poses on team's line up prior to the Copa del Rey Quarter Final match between CD Mirandes and Villarreal CF at Estadio de Anduva on February 05, 2020 in Miranda de Ebro, SpainGetty Images

It is just the fourth time this millennium that a team from outside the top division has reached the final four of Spain’s cup competition.

In fact, this entire season has been a brilliant advert for the Copa del Rey, traditionally dominated by Spain’s biggest clubs, and particularly Barcelona in recent years.

But the Catalans aren’t there, victims of the new one-legged format as they were knocked out by Athletic Bilbao, meaning it will be the first time in a decade they aren't in the semi-finals.

Inaki Williams celebrates his goal during the Spanish Copa del Rey (King's Cup) quarter-final football match Athletic Club Bilbao against FC Barcelona at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on February 06, 2020.

Inaki Williams celebrates his goal during the Spanish Copa del Rey (King's Cup) quarter-final football match Athletic Club Bilbao against FC Barcelona at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on February 06, 2020.Getty Images

Similar fates have befallen Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla as the new-look Copa has brought more shocks than anyone could have predicted.

“It’s a huge deal having a team from the Segunda Division in the last four of the Copa del Rey.” Spanish football expert and co-host of the Spanish Football Podcast Phil Kitromilides tells Eurosport. “It is an atypical Copa del Rey because of the format which has helped produce plenty of shocks.

“There are some people suggesting that because none of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Valencia or Sevilla etc have made it that there could be a lack of interest,

“But because there have been so many shocks and games with incredible drama, I think the imagination of the public has definitely been caught.”

Eurosport Spain’s Felix Martin agrees.

“The appearance of Mirandes as a semifinalist is, as a matter of fact, a triumph of this new format,” he says.

Players of CD Mirandes celebrating a goal during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final match between CD Mirandes and Villarreal CF at Estadio de Anduva on February 05, 2020 in Miranda de Ebro, Spain

Players of CD Mirandes celebrating a goal during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final match between CD Mirandes and Villarreal CF at Estadio de Anduva on February 05, 2020 in Miranda de Ebro, SpainGetty Images

The new format means a lower division team will always play at home when they are up against a team from a higher division and it appears as if that too has benefited Mirandes.

“The stadiums in the north of Spain have are famed for being small, the weather is cold, the grass is high and wet and so it is very difficult to play there.” Martin continues.

"I would say that the main factor for them being in the semi-finals is having played every game until now against big teams in Anduva, where they can count on their public and the pressure they put on the visiting team.”

Eurosport UK’s Spanish football correspondent Graham Ruthven explains further.

“Hailing from Miranda de Ebro, a town of just 35,000 people in the north of Spain, Mirandes are from a part of the country renowned for its hostile football atmospheres.

Supporters of CD Mirandes prior to the Copa del Rey Quarter Final match between CD Mirandes and Villarreal CF at Estadio de Anduva on February 05, 2020 in Miranda de Ebro, Spain

Supporters of CD Mirandes prior to the Copa del Rey Quarter Final match between CD Mirandes and Villarreal CF at Estadio de Anduva on February 05, 2020 in Miranda de Ebro, SpainGetty Images

Pamplona and Osasuna’s El Sadar home isn’t far from the Estadio Municipal de Anduva, with San Mames just an hour’s drive away too.

“Perhaps a closer comparison would be one with Eibar and Ipurua. They too are a tiny club which has used the rainy northern climes to foster one of the fiercest home atmospheres in all of Spanish football.

“There are even similarities in the architecture of Anduva and Ipurua. Expect the tiny community stadium to be bouncing when La Real visit. The local nature of the tie should also add to the spectacle.”

This all sounds very impressive, until you realise that Mirandes have done this before, and in some regards it might have been even more impressive then.

Back in 2012 Mirandes, then a third division club, went on an astonishing run that saw them knock out three top division sides in two-legged ties, Villarreal, Racing Santander and Espanyol, en route to the final four.

There their run was ended in fairly brutal fashion by Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao.

In a strange quirk of fate that only football seems able to conjure up in the starting XI for Athletic in both matches of the semi-final was Andoni Iraola, now the manager of Mirandes.

Andoni Iraola the manager of CD Mirandes reacts during the La Liga Smartbank match between Deportivo de La Coruna and CD Mirandes at Abanca Riazor Stadium on September 29, 2019 in La Coruna, Spain.

Andoni Iraola the manager of CD Mirandes reacts during the La Liga Smartbank match between Deportivo de La Coruna and CD Mirandes at Abanca Riazor Stadium on September 29, 2019 in La Coruna, Spain.Getty Images

After one season in Cyprus in charge of AEK Larnaca this is Iraola’s second season as a manager, and he’s been making waves with his Mirandes team.

“He’s perceived as a manager very highly and there’s a lot of talk he’ll be the next manager of Athletic Club,” says Kitromilides.

“It’s been a very successful casting for him as they in Spanish. Mirandes sit mid-table in the Segunda and they are an outside shout for the play-offs but having come up from the third division it would be great just to stay up.

“He’s an Athletic legend and this has done wonders for his CV and the fact that he could be their next manager.”

Andoni Iraola, head coach of CD Mirandes during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final match between CD Mirandes and Villarreal CF at Estadio de Anduva on February 05, 2020 in Miranda de Ebro, Spain

Andoni Iraola, head coach of CD Mirandes during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final match between CD Mirandes and Villarreal CF at Estadio de Anduva on February 05, 2020 in Miranda de Ebro, SpainGetty Images

Iraola was an archetypal one-club man until he went to New York join up with Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard and David Villa.

He has drawn praise for how well-organised Mirandes have been and for the intensity with which they play.

As Martin explains, he’s also been smart.

“Iraola got some players on loan from big teams of the north of Spain such as Martin Merquelanz and Jon Guridi from Real Sociedad, and have a combination of foreign players such as Brazilian forwards Matheus Aias and Marcos Andre as well as young guys and veteran players that are ending up turning this into a great project.”

What chance does the great project have of ending in a true fairytale? It’s difficult to say, not least because of the way Real Sociedad have been playing this season.

Home-grown star Mikel Oyarzabal is dove-tailing wonderfully with Alexander Isak and Martin Odegaard and together the trio help make Imanol Alguacil’s side one of the most exciting in Europe.

And as the tournament reverts back to two legs for the semi-finals it might make things even more difficult for Iraola and his team but, as Ruthven points out, “any side that has eliminated Celta Vigo, Sevilla and Villarreal to get this far has to be taken seriously.”

Don’t look away, cup football isn’t finished yet…