Formentera, Lleida bask in glory of Copa del Rey giant killings
Players from third division sides Formentera and Lleida Esportiu hailed their shock wins over Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad as the best moments of their careers after dumping the two giants of the Spanish game out of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.
Formentera, which entered the competition for the first time three years ago, sneaked a 1-0 win at 23-time Copa winner Athletic with a headed goal from substitute Alvaro Muniz in the 95th minute.
The goal came from a last ditch corner which goalkeeper Marcos Contreras raced up the pitch to contest.
The Segunda Division B outfit, from an island with a population of 12,000, was heading out of the competition on away goals after a 1-1 draw at its tiny stadium in the first leg but Muniz's goal put it in the last 16 for the first time.
"This is the best day of my career, you cannot understand the happiness I'm feeling right now," said Muniz, whose club almost went bust in 2007.
"I'm not happy for me, this is for all the fans that have travelled, for my teammates, for the players that are injured. Now I would love us to draw Real Madrid or Barcelona."
Coach Tito Garcia had to watch the game from the stands as he was still serving a touchline ban and said he knew his side were in for a great night when Athletic strikers Aritz Aduriz and Inaki Williams missed two late chances.
"That was when I said we would have one last opportunity, and that God was on our side," he said.
Fellow third division outfit Lleida Esportiu also reached the last 16 for the first time after coming from 0-2 down at Real Sociedad to win 3-2 and go through on away goals.
Sociedad is one of only nine teams to have won La Liga and have reached the last 32 of this season's Europa League.
Lleida went into the game without a win in its last six games and without scoring in its last five but was full of optimism, blaring out the Spanish pop song "Mi Gran Noche" (My Big Night) on the team bus on its way to the stadium.
"We're going to play it before every game now," said Manu Molina, who scored the equalizer.
The crucial goal was headed in by 17-year-old Bojan Radulovic, who had never scored a goal for the first team.
"When I scored I couldn't believe it, my first goal, at a ground like this, against a Liga side. I didn't know how to celebrate it."
Meanwhile, struggling La Liga side Las Palmas sacked coach Pako Ayestaran on Thursday following a run of seven defeats in nine games in all competitions, parting ways with its second manager of the season three months into the campaign.
The club made the announcement in a statement on its website (www.udlaspalmas.es) after the 2-3 defeat at home to Deportivo La Coruna in the Copa, even though it still reached the last 16 of the tournament 6-4 on aggregate.
A former assistant to Rafa Benitez at Liverpool and Valencia, Ayestaran holds the record for the most consecutive defeats in Spanish top flight history, losing 13 games in a row in charge of Valencia last season and Las Palmas this term.
He brought that dismal run to an end with a 1-1 draw at Sociedad last Sunday, which took the side off the bottom of La Liga and up to 19th in the standings.
Ayestaran took charge of Las Palmas on September 27 after Manolo Marquez resigned from the role following two wins and four defeats. His only victory with the Canary Island side was a 4-1 win over Deportivo in the first leg of their last 32 Copa tie.
The club said assistant coaches Paquito Ortiz and Rafa Cristobal would take charge of the team until a replacement was announced.
According to Spanish media reports, former Rayo Vallecano coach Paco Jemez, who had a brief spell in charge of Las Palmas between 2010-11, is the club's top choice to succeed Ayestaran after parting ways with Mexican side Cruz Azul last week.