Julen Agirrezabala Makes Great Save to Help Athletic Bilbao Claim Copa del Rey Title

Julen Agirrezabala is celebrating a massive save that helped his team win a historic title…

The 23-year-old Spanish professional footballer and goalkeeper for Athletic Bilbao saved a spot kick from Mallorca‘s Manu Morlanes as Athletic Club beat Mallorca 4-2 on penalties on Saturday to win their 24th Copa del Rey title and their first since 1984, ending a 40-year major silverware drought in a nerve-wracking final in Seville.

Julen AgirrezabalaAlong with Agirrezabala’s great save, Nemanja Radonjic missed the goal with his effort.

Meanwhile Athletic’s penalty takers were flawless in their execution, scoring all of their first four.

Iker Muniain received the trophy from Spanish King Felipe VI before lifting it high for his team and fans to celebrate.

Since their last Copa del Rey triumph, Athletic had lost six straight finals, including in 2020 and 2021.

Only Barcelona and their 31 Copas have more than Athletic, despite the team from Bilbao fielding players only from or near Spain’s northern Basque Country region.

Athletic’s only previous silverware in the last 40 years has been two Spanish Supercopa triumphs, in 2015 and 2021.

“We’ve made history. The fans deserve it… I’ve dreamed a lot about this,” an emotional man-of-the-match Nico Williams told TVE. “Me, my family, my brother. I did it for my family, with what we’ve fought for. I’m happy to make history with this club.”

Valverde, who won two LaLiga titles and a Copa del Rey with Barcelona, said Saturday’s triumph was the most meaningful of his career.

“This is incredible. This doesn’t compare to any other [trophy],” he told Moistar.

“With what the stadium was like, what this competition means for our fans, the years we’ve been looking for it … and in the end, with the penalties, something they’re specialists in … It means a lot to this club.”

Athletic Bilbao, Copa del Rey 2024NBA great Steve Nash, a minority owner of Mallorca, was at the game, as well as Rafael Nadal, a native of the island of Mallorca. Each club had 20,000 tickets for traveling fans at the packed 57,000-seat La Cartuja Stadium. Some 40,000 more fans, mostly for Athletic, were expected to descend on the southern city without tickets.

Even though Athletic are fifth in LaLiga and Mallorca down in 15th place, there was little difference between them in the final. Javier Aguirre, Mallorca’s journeyman coach, succeeded in nullifying the more explosive attack of Valverde‘s Athletic.

The game had finished 1-1 after extra time. Despite Athletic dominating proceedings with almost 70% of possession, Dani Rodríguez fired in a curling shot after a couple of other efforts had been charged down, giving Mallorca the lead in the 21st minute.

But Oihan Sancet equalized in the 50th minute before Athletic laid siege to Mallorca’s goal.

They were wasteful, however, missing several chances to score late on, including Williams hitting the post in extra time. But a gritty Mallorca outfit held strong in defense and were a threat in counter-attacks as well, before finally succumbing in the shootout.

“The first thing I have to do is to congratulate Athletic and its fans. They have been waiting a long time for this,” Mallorca scorer Rodríguez said. “I am moved because I am very proud of my teammates and our supporters who accompanied us.

“Our dream was to win this cup. We tried to, but it wasn’t to be.”

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