Real Madrid were on the receiving end of a major Copa del Rey upset on Wednesday evening as they crashed out at the last 32 stage to 10-man third-tier outfit Alcoyano.
The Spanish giants had taken the lead on the stroke of half time through Eder Militao’s header, but Jose Solbes struck in the 80th minute to send the tie to extra time.
Ramon Lopez was sent off for the hosts in the second half of extra time, before Juanan snuck in at the near post five minutes from time to give the Alcoyano a famous victory against all the odds.
It’s now three games without a win for Real Madrid following Thursday’s Supercopa de Espana semi final defeat to Athletic Club and their draw with second bottom Osasuna. The pressure is mounting on Zinedine Zidane.
So just who are the plucky underdogs who have humbled Madrid and left Zidane on the brink?
Alcoyano are based in the city of Alcoy in the Alicante region of eastern Spain. It’s just over 100km from Valencia – and 60km from Benidorm.
They play in Segunda Division B – the third-tier of Spanish football, which is regionalised. Alcoyano have played in La Liga, but not since 1951. Their highest-ever league finish came in the 1947/48 season, when they placed 10th in the top flight (one place and one point above Real Madrid).
However, they have spent 49 of the last 50 seasons playing in the third and fourth tiers. Alcoyano were a fourth-division side last season, but earned promotion from Group 6 of the Tercera Division.
Between 1992-1994, they were managed by future Tottenham and Real Madrid boss Juande Ramos.
We need to put into context just how huge of a shock this result is. It’s genuinely remarkable. Alcoyano’s El Collao stadium is a 4,850 seater. Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium training ground holds more.
Alcoyano are currently fourth in Segunda Division B Group 3 – their division is topped by Ibiza.
The third tier side have lost two of their 10 league games this season – one of these was a 3-0 defeat to Villarreal’s B team in November.
To add further context, Real Madrid’s B team, Castilla, also play in the Segunda Division B, albeit in a different group.
Starting in the heart of the midfield for Alcoyano during their victory over Real Madrid was Jony.
Alcoyano are the 15th club of the 35-year-old’s career – and he comes from a footballing family. His father Boria played top flight football for Elche, the club where Jony’s middle brother Aaron Niguez also currently plies his trade.
Oh, and their youngest brother is Saul Niguez, who’s made over 300 appearances for Atletico Madrid, played in a Champions League final, represented Spain and is regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world.
Goalkeeper Jose Juan turned in a player of the match performance for Alcoyano with a number of fine saves as Real Madrid registered 11 shots on target. It was an astonishing performance from a man who, on 25 January, will celebrate his 42nd birthday.
Jose Juan has been around the block, with his career highlight to date a toss up between Wednesday’s victory over Real, winning promotion to the second tier with Elche in 2018 or playing a full 37 minutes of La Liga football for Celta Vigo in 2003.
When he started his career in the 1998/99 season, three of Real Madrid’s starting XI had yet to be born (Andriy Lunin, Victo Chust and Vinicius Junior)
At 41 Jose Juan is the veteran of the side – but he’s not an anomaly.
Alcoyano’s starting XI had an average age of 27- with five players aged over 30.
They also had the luxury of bringing on 39-year-old attacking midfielder Juli on the hour mark, presumably to inject some pace into proceedings.
The Spanish phrase ‘Tener más moral que el Alcoyano’ means ‘to have more morale than Alcoyano’.
The expression is rumoured to have originated in the 1950s, referring to a game where Alcoyano were losing 13-0 at home but never gave up, still attempting to score until the final whistle.
Sentiments that maybe Zidane and Real Madrid can ponder.
30-year-old Juanan Casanova enjoyed the moment of his career when he turned in a cross to give Alcoyano their unexpected victory.
The midfielder actually has a bit of a history of being a bad luck charm for Madrid.
Back in 2019, he was in the crowd supporting his beloved Valencia as they won the Copa del Rey – knocking, wouldn’t ya know, Real Madrid out in the semi-finals.