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.”

Aitana Bonmatí Helps Lead Spain to Inaugural Women’s Nations League Title

Aitana Bonmatí has helped Spain make soccer history again… 

The 26-year-old Spanish professional soccer star and Ballon d’Or winner scored to help Spain beat France 2-0 in the Women’s Nations League final on Wednesday, giving the world champions the inaugural Women’s Nations League title and another trophy.

Aitana Bonmatí, Spain, Women's Nations LeagueBonmati and Mariona Caldentey scored a goal each for Spain in front of 32,657 fans at La Cartuja Stadium in southern Spain. It was a record crowd for Spain’s women’s team in the country.

Spain also holds the men’s Nations League title, having beaten Croatia in the final in June.

“Really happy to win another trophy. What more can you ask for? It’s incredible what we have achieved,” Bonmatí said. “It seems easy, that winning is an obligation for us, but it’s not easy at all.

“We have so much ambition and, despite some rough patches, here we are lifting another trophy. We deserved the win. The first half was quite good, albeit with some lapses. I think we controlled France quite well in the second half. This team has no ceiling. We keep demonstrating that. We have won the Nations League and now we want to win the Olympics.”

Spain had its breakthrough tournament at the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, winning the title in their third appearance.

“We always want more. Now is the moment for all the staff and players to savour and enjoy,” Spain coach Montse Tomé said. “You’ve seen on the pitch against a great opponent how we managed to limit them to very few chances and control the game. Our play has been evolving. We have a great group of players.”

The celebrations were marred by one of the country’s worst crises, though, as the then-president of the Spanish soccer federation, Luis Rubiales, kissed player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the awards ceremony to spark an outrage in soccer and Spanish society in general. Rubiales eventually resigned, and prosecutors later accused him of sexual assault.

“Today we get to celebrate again. We deserve it,” Hermoso said. “We try to enjoy ourselves but we also have the responsibility that there are so many people behind us who want to follow in our footsteps. We are so proud that there are so many girls who want to be champions in the future.”

Tomé took over the team in September after World Cup-winning coach Jorge Vilda was fired amid the fallout from Rubiales’ behavior.

But Spain haven’t lost momentum since becoming world champions. They defeated the Netherlands 3-0 in last week’s semifinal, a result that also secured the team a place in the 2024 Paris Games.

The final was Spain’s first victory over France, who had already qualified for the Olympics as the host country.

“They’ll be the team to beat at the Olympics, it won’t be easy,” France coach Hervé Renard said. “We are going to have to keep improving, learn lessons and keep moving forward. Let’s say we have taken one step but we haven’t taken the second. There’s still a lot of work to do.”

Jenni Hermoso & Aitana Bonmatí Help Spain’s Women’s Soccer Team Qualify for First Olympic Games

Jenni Hermoso and Aitana Bonmatí have helped Spain make Olympic history…

The Spanish tennis stars helped Spain beat the Netherlands 3-0 in the UEFA Women’s Nations League semifinals on Friday, a victory that secured the world champions a spot in the Paris Olympics.

Jenni Hermoso & Aitana BonmatíHermoso opened the scoring with a nice solo effort in the 41st minute before Ballon d’Or holder Bonmatí doubled the lead in the 45th. Left back Ona Batlle added the third in the 77th to complete the dominant performance by the hosts.

Spain will face France in the first Women’s Nations League final in the same La Cartuja Stadium on Wednesday. France beat Germany 2-1 in Friday’s other semifinal.

Qualifying for Spain’s first Olympic Games is the first important success for the team since Montse Tomé took over in September following the scandal that erupted when former Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales kissed Hermoso without her consent at the World Cup final.

“[I and my staff] took charge in a difficult moment that nobody wanted and we took a step forward,” Tomé said. “We are proud of the work we have done. This team deserves to play an Olympic Games after all the prior generations who fought for it and came up short.”

Spain started strong in front of their fans in southern Seville.

Striker Salma Paralluelo, who scored the winner to help Spain beat the Dutch in last year’s Women’s World Cup quarterfinals, missed twice from close-range before she was stopped by goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar in a one-on-one opportunity early on.

More shots came from Olga Carmona and Irene Paredes, while the Netherlands could threaten only through Lineth Beerensteyn‘s powerful shot saved by Cata Coll.

The Dutch resistance finally faltered when Hermoso used two slick changes of feet to avoid three defenders and beat Van Domselaar for the opener.

Bonmatí added a quick second blow when she raced forward to volley home a cross from Barcelona clubmate Mariona Caldentey.

The Netherlands improved after half-time, but Battle caught the visitors off guard when she finished off an attack that started with her own cross.

Spain coach Tomé gave a debut to 17-year-old Vicky López in the second half.

A moment of silence was held before kickoff in memory of the victims of a deadly fire in the eastern Spanish city of Valencia.

Leylah Fernandez Helps Lead Canada Past Spain in Billie Jean King Cup Finals Group Play

Leylah Fernandez has helped Canada take down the hosts at this year’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

The 21-year-old half-Ecuadorian Canadian tennis player edged past Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo 7-6 (8), 7-6 (7) in Group C of the tournament on Wednesday, sending Canada to the semi-finals.

Leylah FernandezMeanwhile, teenager Marina Stakusic got the biggest win of her career when she defeated No. 65-ranked Rebeka Masarova. 

The 18-year-old Stakusic, ranked No. 258 in the world, defeated Masarova 6-3, 6-1 to give Canada the first point of the day at La Cartuja Stadium.

Stakusic’s previous career-best victory had been against No. 152 Jaimee Fourlis in 2022. She had never beaten a top 100 opponent.

In the doubles, Eugenie Bouchard and Gabriela Dabrowski beat Sorribes Tormo and Masarova 6-2, 7-5.

In Group D, Italy defeated France 2-1.

The 12 teams in the BJK Cup Finals compete in four round-robin groups and the winners will advance to the semifinals this weekend.