Athletic Bilbao great Markel Susaeta has lauded former team-mate Aritz Aduriz following his retirement, hailing the star's longevity at San Mames and in Spanish football.

Aduriz was given a special send-off by Athletic on the hallowed San Mames turf last week after the 39-year-old retired – the coronavirus pandemic and a hip injury prematurely ending the forward's career.

Retiring at the end of 2019-20 had always been the plan for Aduriz, who netted 118 league goals for Athletic across three different periods and was the only player other than Lionel Messi to score in 15 successive LaLiga seasons after his stunning last-gasp bicycle kick against Barcelona in August.

Aduriz – a late bloomer – also enjoyed spells with Real Valladolid, Real Mallorca and Valencia, while he made his Spain debut in 2010 before earning an international recall six years later at the age of 35.

Susaeta, who amassed over 500 appearances for boyhood club Athletic before leaving in 2019, told Stats Perform News: "Aduriz always played a very good level, very good football.

"After the first seasons at Athletic, he went to Mallorca and in Mallorca he scored many, many goals. At Valencia, the same. But when he came to Bilbao at 31-32 years of age, he started scoring goals like a crazy man.

"Very good football level and in six years, it was amazing. Everything he touched was gold. The secret? I don't know. He is a very professional man, he ate very clean."

Susaeta played alongside Aduriz – who did not move to San Mames until he was already 19 – as Athletic stunned Spanish giants Barca in the 2015 Supercopa de Espana, the club's first piece of silverware in 31 years.

Aduriz scored a second-half hat-trick in Athletic's 4-0 first-leg rout of Barca before they earned a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou.

"I remember that final," Susaeta, who now plays for A-League side Melbourne City, said. "One of the most important moments of my football career. Amazing night because winning against Barcelona is very difficult if you play two games.

"At San Mames, we won 4-0 and it was an amazing night. Aduriz scored three goals and the other one was [Mikel] San Jose. In the second game at Camp Nou, we drew 1-1 and Aduriz again scored.

"The last trophy Athletic won was maybe 30 years ago and this trophy was very special for supporters, the players."

Having already decided to hang up his boots at the end of the campaign, Aduriz looked set for a fairytale farewell after Athletic earned a blockbuster Copa del Rey final showdown against Basque rivals Real Sociedad, however, the COVID-19 crisis has left the decider up in the air since March.

"For this pandemic, coronavirus, it is a very crazy moment for the world and football," Susaeta added. "The pain for him is very strong now and he couldn't play that final. But if Athletic win that final, Aduriz is like the other players. It's his trophy also."

While Susaeta and Aduriz flourished together on the field, it is their friendship outside of football that the 32-year-old winger cherishes most.

"I have many memories," Susaeta said. "I am a privileged man because I've given him the most assists during his career. Always when we played together, we played good, very good years.

"But for me, it's more important that we have very good memories outside of the pitch, outside football. We are very good friends. We usually go on holidays, for dinner with the families."

With Aduriz now in retirement, all eyes are on Inaki Williams – who signed a new nine-year contract in August – to lead Athletic into a new era.

Asked if Williams is the man to take Athletic forward, Susaeta replied: "Yes, because in the past he played very good football. Now he is the present.

"Inaki Williams is different than Aduriz. Inaki Williams is one of the fastest players in the world and Athletic and him use that condition."

Aritz Aduriz said his farewell inside an eerily quiet San Mames stadium was more than he deserved at the end of a storied career.

The 39-year-old announced his retirement this week after 20 years playing mostly in LaLiga with Athletic Bilbao, for whom he scored 118 league goals.

The Spain international striker was given a special send-off on the Athletic home pitch on Friday, with team-mates giving him and his family a guard of honour as he took one more walk on the turf.

A celebration of his career would likely have seen the stands packed with supporters were it not for health protocols during the coronavirus pandemic making such an occasion impossible.

Aduriz, though, thinks he has already received more than enough recognition.

"This is more than I think I deserve," he said. "I think I've had a load of tributes. I've enjoyed it so much here. I don't feel they have to say goodbye to me.

"I've had so much fun that this is more than I ever imagined.

"Athletic are special, different. Above all, there's a crazy human level that makes it like a gang competing against the rest of the world. That makes us different."

Aduriz chose to retire after doctors advised he needs hip replacement surgery, with the weeks during Spain's strict lockdown showing him the time was right to stop.

It had been hoped his final match would be in the Copa del Rey final against Basque rivals Real Sociedad, but Aduriz does not believe he would have been of much use to his side even if he tried to play.

"I'd been fighting for some time," he said. "After this lockdown, that was the end.

"The body has a limit and the hip made that fight unbalanced. These two months at home have been very difficult for the hip.

"The team is better off without me being there. I couldn't be there in these conditions."

Aduriz confirmed his retirement via a dignified social media post in which he told fans his goodbye was "just an anecdote" amid the trauma of the COVID-19 crisis.

He was similarly reluctant to feel downcast on Friday as he reflected on a career he never thought possible.

"It's a very beautiful day for me. It's not sad at all," he said. "I would never have imagined such a long and beautiful journey, from start to finish. It's a day to be happy and thankful, although it's not easy speaking in the middle of San Mames with so much silence!

"The hardest thing won't be not playing in these remaining 11 games [of the league season], nor in that much-loved and sought-after cup final. The hardest thing will be not being with this squad anymore. I'll miss you all so much. Thank you all for this journey. It's been wonderful, unforgettable.

"I liked football, but it was unthinkable that I'd get to play a game for Athletic. If I've reached this point in my life, aged 39, it's because I've done what I liked the most. I've had a great time."

Picking out the best bits from the career of Andres Iniesta is rather like trying to get the ball off him. It's damnably difficult.

Still, to mark the former Spain and Barcelona star's 36th birthday, we have selected 10 truly top moments from one of the 21st century's finest footballers.

These have been chosen from among his career highlights with Barca and the national team, so, Vissel Kobe fans, we must apologise.

Enjoy a stroll down memory lane to look at 'The Artist' and his finest work...

2006: FINAL SUPER-SUB

Iniesta later admitted his "blood was boiling" when he learned he was on the bench for the 2006 Champions League final against Arsenal.

With Barca 1-0 down at half-time, Frank Rijkaard moved to rectify that error by introducing the midfielder for Edmilson. It proved pivotal.

Fellow subs Henrik Larsson and Juliano Belletti, along with Samuel Eto'o, might have provided the telling touches to secure a 2-1 victory, but it was Iniesta's arrival that catalysed the comeback. Future team-mate Thierry Henry, who was in that Arsenal side, recalled: "The person who really killed me was Andres. When he comes on, everything changes."

 

2009: INIESTAZO AT STAMFORD BRIDGE

Chelsea fans might remember this Champions League semi-final second leg for a string of questionable refereeing decisions, but there is one moment that will forever stay with Barca fans.

The Catalans were moments from going out to a Michael Essien strike, but Iniesta's thumping effort from outside the box in the third minute of injury time sent them through on away goals.

Barca went on to beat Manchester United in the final and win the treble in Pep Guardiola's first season in charge. Iniesta's goal made it all possible.

2010: WORLD CUP GLORY

Iniesta recalled his winning goal in extra time of the 2010 World Cup final as a moment of clarity, when it seemed as though the world drifted into slow motion.

That feeling of calm was a far cry from the year leading up to the tournament, in which the player struggled badly with mental and emotional concerns despite his success on the pitch. "It was like nothing was right," he recalled in his book, The Artist: Being Iniesta.

The loss of his friend Dani Jarque in 2009 - the Espanyol defender who died at just 26 years old - had deeply affected Iniesta, and it was only fitting he celebrated securing Spain's first World Cup by pulling off his shirt to reveal a message beneath reading: "Dani Jarque, always with us."

2010: A CLASICO FOR THE AGES

Guardiola's Barca reached their peak in 2010-11 and arguably their greatest performance came in November 2010 against Real Madrid.

Jose Mourinho's first taste of the Clasico as Madrid coach ended in a 5-0 battering at Camp Nou in which Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets utterly dominated proceedings.

He was not among the goals - Xavi (from Iniesta's pass), Pedro, David Villa (twice) and Jeffren were on the scoresheet - but Iniesta's display underlined his position as one of the world's best midfielders in the finest team on the planet.

2011: UNITED BACK ON THE CAROUSEL

Alex Ferguson famously compared facing a midfield of Xavi and Iniesta to being stuck on a carousel after Barca beat United 2-0 in the 2009 Champions League final.

Two years later, Guardiola's men led the Red Devils on an even dizzier dance, winning 3-1 at Wembley to secure another European triumph. Such was Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta's control over events that even Ferguson could find no complaints over the scoreline.

"They do mesmerise you with the way they pass it," he said. "I would say they're the best team we've faced. Everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. It's not easy when you've been well beaten like that to think another way. No one has given us a hiding like that. It's a great moment for them."

 

2011: A WORLD RUN BY MIDFIELDERS

At the 2011 Club World Cup, Barca went into the final against Santos with David Villa injured and Pedro on the bench. Guardiola's solution? Let's midfield them to death.

Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara (oh, and Dani Alves) all lined up behind Lionel Messi in a 3-4-3. It gave Barca a grip on the game that never loosened.

Messi (twice), Xavi and Fabregas scored in a 4-0 win in which Barca had 71 per cent possession and a young Neymar was given a glimpse of his future. Iniesta, the beating heart of the side, described the performance as "unique... it was something to remember and enjoy".

 

2012: THE BEST IN EUROPE

Iniesta was part of the Spain side that won Euro 2008 under Luis Aragones before Vicente del Bosque led them to World Cup glory. Two years later, one of the great modern eras of international football was secured as they defended their continental crown, dispatching Italy 4-0 in the final in Kiev.

Del Bosque's team comprised six midfielders and no strikers, a remarkable line-up that represented the zenith of tiki-taka football, where technical mastery of pass-and-move play trumped all else and the classic number nine was rendered obsolete. It was the footballing equivalent of a guitar band deciding guitars aren't cool any more.

Iniesta was named man of the match, player of the tournament, and crowned UEFA's Best Player in Europe later that year.

2015: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE HISTORY

Another former Barca player in his first season as head coach, another treble, and another Iniesta assist on a big stage.

Luis Enrique's Barca took the lead against Juventus in Berlin through Ivan Rakitic after four minutes, as Iniesta became the first player to assist a goal in three different Champions League finals.

Alvaro Morata equalised but Luis Suarez and Neymar secured a 3-1 victory, as Iniesta claimed another man-of-the-match prize in a major final.

2015: THE SANTIAGO BERNABEU STANDS AS ONE

Iniesta is one of the few Spanish players who is generally admired throughout rival fan bases and territories - even among Real Madrid supporters.

In the Clasico of November 2015, Barca destroyed Madrid on home turf with a 4-0 victory in which Iniesta set up Neymar for a goal and scored a stunner himself.

Such was the supremacy of Iniesta that day - with Lionel Messi out injured - that the Bernabeu gave him a standing ovation as he left the pitch in the 77th minute. Only two other Barca players had ever been accorded such an honour: Ronaldinho, and Diego Maradona.

2018: THE INIESTA FINAL

Iniesta had not yet confirmed he would be leaving Barca at the end of 2017-18, but he made sure to provide the perfect curtain call anyway.

Having played a reduced role for much of the season, Iniesta seemed to have been saving himself for a last hurrah: the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla.

Although nearly 34, he looked at the peak of his powers, dictating the game at his own tempo as Barca cantered to a 5-0 win.

He even scored the goal of the game - exchanging passes with Messi, dummying the keeper and firing home - before yet another ovation serenaded his teary-eyed exit from the last major final he would play for the club he joined as a 12-year-old.

Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao have agreed to ask that the Copa del Rey final be held with spectators present.

Sport in Spain has been on hold since March due to the coronavirus pandemic and there is no date scheduled for the resumption of LaLiga or the postponed Copa final.

Clubs were granted permission to return to hold individual training sessions from Monday, provided strict protocols were followed.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said on Saturday he was optimistic sport could return soon but it would likely be behind closed doors.

However, the Basque rivals will request that measure does not apply to their Copa final, which was initially scheduled to take place at Estadio de la Cartuja in Seville on April 18.

A joint-statement published by Athletic and La Real read: "The presidents of Real Sociedad and Athletic Club, both finalists of the Copa del Rey for the 2019-2020 season, after meeting with the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation [RFEF], have agreed to ask RFEF for the final to be played with open doors, in public and in an official way, on a date to be determined and agreed between the three parties involved.

"The desire and will of both clubs has always been, now and before, to play and enjoy the final along with the supporters. This is what we would like most. A final to be lived with our supporters in the stands.

"At the same time, Real Sociedad and Athletic Club want the RFEF to guarantee that the final will be played as an official competition and will, therefore, be considered an official title.

"To this end, they have asked the general secretariat of the RFEF for the delegate committee of the RFEF General Assembly, whose next meeting will be held on Friday, to adopt a calendar amendment agreement that will enable the final to be held as an official title with the support and warmth of the fans of both teams.

"With this decision, Real Sociedad and Athletic Club wish to highlight one of the most prestigious and traditional sporting events that can be played around the world, unique in this edition, and to do so together with their fans, supporters, subscribers, members and partners, the true essence, and raison d’être of this wonderful sport."

It took a pandemic to stop the goals flowing from Lionel Messi, the brilliant Argentinian who first found the back of the net for Barcelona on May 1, 2005.

Fifteen years since that first strike, Messi has ploughed through the 600-goal mark for the Catalan giants, coincidentally reaching that landmark on May 1, 2019.

He was spending May 1 at home this year, along with every other footballer in LaLiga, which has been paused since March due to the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

To watch Messi in his pomp and assess the pick of his goals for Barcelona is a pick-me-up for any dark day, and here is a look at a chronological top 10 from the Argentinian's collection.

Albacete (H): May 1, 2005

Even at 17, Messi had the confidence of a veteran. Having already seen one goal wrongly ruled out for offside - an audacious chip from the edge of the box - Messi's confidence was far from knocked and just a minute later he latched onto Ronaldinho's scooped pass before lobbing the ball over Albacete goalkeeper Raul Valbuena from 16 yards. Some way to open your account for one of Europe's great clubs.

Malaga (H): March 22, 2009

Thierry Henry's favourite goal by Messi during their time playing together for Barca. Why not let the France great take up the story? "It defied logic what he did," Henry said in the 'Take the Ball, Pass the Ball' documentary. "There's a diagonal ball and he controls it on his chest. He runs full speed, then the first player goes and the second player is just behind. If he takes another step, that player will clear the ball." A shimmy of the body and deft touch later – in the blink of an eye – Messi stabbed into the top corner to conclude a moment of 100-miles-per-hour brilliance.

Real Zaragoza (A): March 21, 2010

Described by some as 'a defining goal' in his career, this strike against Real Zaragoza seemed to take him from very good into another class entirely. Messi displayed all he had to offer in a goal that began when he won the ball from a tackle on halfway. From there, he shrugged off one challenge, raced towards the box and turned a defender inside out before drilling into the far corner, leaving coach Pep Guardiola speechless.

Real Madrid (A): April 27, 2011

At the height of the Clasico rivalry between Guardiola's Barca and Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, the two teams met four times in three different competitions in less than a month. The league meeting ended in a draw and Madrid won the Copa del Rey final, but Barca triumphed in the Champions League semi-final with a 3-1 aggregate win. The first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu, an ill-tempered affair to say the least, saw Messi make it 2-0 by bursting beyond four attempted challenges and slotting past Iker Casillas, all in the space of around five seconds.

Athletic Bilbao (A): April 27, 2013

Barca would regain their LaLiga title from Real Madrid but were in the midst of a Champions League semi-final shellacking from Bayern Munich when they arrived at San Mames. A goal down in a match that would eventually finish 2-2, Messi received possession from Thiago Alcantara, twisted past Mikel San Jose, Carlos Gurpegui and Ander Herrera with minimal space in which to operate before nonchalantly sidefooting home from just inside the penalty area.

Bayern Munich (H): May 6, 2015

Guardiola returned to Camp Nou with a Bayern Munich side struggling with injury problems. They kept Barca at bay until the 77th minute of this Champions League semi-final first leg, when Messi finally struck. It was his second goal that earns a place in this list, though: collecting Ivan Rakitic's pass, a simple-looking shimmy left Jerome Boateng on his backside before he chipped Manuel Neuer with his weaker foot.

Real Madrid (A): April 23, 2017

El Clasico rarely disappoints for football fans around the globe, and this edition was no different. Anything but a win would essentially hand Real Madrid the title, and it looked to be headed for a 2-2 draw until Sergi Roberto's swashbuckling run in stoppage time gave Jordi Alba the chance to square to Messi, who finished with aplomb from the edge of the area for his 500th Barcelona goal.

Real Betis (A): March 17, 2019

Rarely has a hat-trick been completed in finer fashion. Messi's two goals had helped Barca to a 3-1 lead at the Benito Villamarin, before he passed to Rakitic, ran onto the return ball and sent a first-time chip over goalkeeper Pau Lopez and in off the crossbar from just inside the box. It was a sublime effort that even had the home fans on the feet, applauding - something Messi himself admitted he has not experienced before.

Liverpool (H): May 1, 2019

Over the past few years, Messi has mastered the art of free-kick taking, with the skill being one of few to elude him in his younger days. Liverpool held their own for long periods at Camp Nou but goals from Luis Suarez and Messi gave the hosts breathing space. Jurgen Klopp's side then had to bow to greatness when, after being brought down by Fabinho, Barca's talisman swept an unstoppable 30-yard effort into the top corner. Barcelona would incredibly blow their 3-0 first-leg advantage, however, losing 4-0 at Anfield as Liverpool reached the Champions League final.

Atletico Madrid (A): December 1, 2019

It was goalless in the 86th minute at the Wanda Metropolitano when Messi collected the ball on the right flank, 10 yards inside the Atletico half. Those famous feet began to shuffle with purpose, and although Atletico knew what Messi had in mind, they were powerless to resist the execution of his plan. Messi surged on, playing the ball to Luis Suarez on the edge of the penalty area before taking the return pass and cracking a brilliant 20-yard shot into the bottom left corner of Jan Oblak's goal. A winner, and one of the highest class.

Pozas, Bilbao, could seem a peculiar place for the average football fan on the day of 'Derbi Vasco', one of Spain's most famous rivalries.

Approximately one and a half kilometres in length, it's a street that's littered with bars and leads directly to the home of Athletic Bilbao: San Mames, it's grilled east stand and external screen visible between the final buildings.

It is on this street where Athletic supporters and their Real Sociedad counterparts meet up before the derby – not to scrap, as some might expect of such an occasion, but mingle side-by-side, sing and drink, and even swap club colours before walking to the stadium. Together.

"It's like a brotherhood," Mikel Mugalari, a lifelong Athletic fan, explains to Stats Perform. "Very rarely there's fights or incidents. We don't have that kind of hatred. It's a healthy rivalry."

It's little wonder this contest has been described as the "friendly derby", or "unique" as, although passion burns strongly on both sides, there is also a sense of camaraderie and unity.

Welcome to the Basque Country.

History on hold for the phantom final

The next time these two famous clubs meet will, in theory, be the Copa del Rey final, the first between Athletic and La Real in their current guises. It was supposed to take place on April 18 but, much like virtually all sporting events around the globe, it had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While clearly a momentous occasion, coverage of this final hasn't been entirely positive. The new format of the Copa del Rey – ditching two-legged ties for one-off meetings before the semi-finals – has been met with much praise on the one hand, giving smaller clubs a greater chance of progression, but simultaneously highlighted potential bias in the mainstream media.

"People are tired of so many Clasicos and want other teams to compete for the titles," La Real fan David Gonzalez says, pointing out 2010 was the last time neither of the 'big two' reached the final.

Mikel agrees. "If you talk to someone who really likes football, many say, 'Wow, finally a final without Barcelona and Real Madrid.' My kid was reading me the comments in the main national sports papers: most of the comments from Spain were saying it's not a final, no one will watch it, cancel it [because of coronavirus]. I couldn't imagine talk of cancelling [rather than postponing] a Madrid v Barca final because of the coronavirus situation. Now there's lots of talk about cancelling it. Why? Because it's two smaller teams from the north, who aren't even Spanish."

The Basque Country, or 'Euskadi' to the locals, was granted autonomy in 1979, four years after the death of Spanish dictator General Franco, who prohibited the region's Ikurrina flag after defeating the Basque government's army in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

Although Mikel acknowledges, politically, Spain and Euskadi now find themselves in "a friendly situation", the lowest approval ratings of the Spanish monarchy are attributed to the Basque people and Catalonia, another excuse for a potential postponement of the final, he feels.

"It's going to be a Basque final, it's very important. In past finals there's been controversy because there's been whistles and yelling at the king," Mikel said. "That's one of the things they don't like about this final in Spain. They are saying it should be cancelled because of coronavirus, but [in reality] don't want to have a televised final that will be viewed by millions over the world, to have whistling and yelling towards the king. What we say is, change the name [of the Copa]. That's it, it's a tournament [it doesn't belong to the king]. Change the name."

A bittersweet success?

Both David and Mikel remember the respective glory days of their clubs in the 1980s when, for four years, the league title didn't leave the Basque Country.

For David, that period brought immense highs and crushing disappointment. From seeing La Real lose the title to Real Madrid in 1980 due to defeat at Sevilla on the penultimate day of the season, to then inflicting similar misery on Los Blancos a year later.

"It just seemed unfair to me, but then the next year we won LaLiga in Gijon with [Jesus Maria] Zamora's goal in the very last minute when Real Madrid, who had already finished their match, were already celebrating winning the title," recalls David, who spent his very first salary on becoming a season-ticket holder.

Similarly, the 80s bring back both great and sad memories for Mikel, his worst being the 1984 Copa final – in which Athletic actually beat Barca 1-0 – due to the apparent vilification of his team following the infamous mass brawl at the end.

But, although both men agree the 2019-20 Copa final is momentous for the obvious reasons, there is also a consensus that this is essentially as good as it gets now – there's little hope victory for either team will be the prelude to sustained success it may have been in the 80s.

"A few years ago, I would tell you yes, without hesitation," David replies when asked if final qualification is a sign of things to come for La Real, who were fourth in LaLiga before its suspension. "But today, unfortunately, football has changed a lot and for a club like Real Sociedad it is more difficult to maintain a good team like the one we have now."

"Until the Bosman rule's introduction [in 1995], Athletic had chances of winning, but now we have no chance of getting better than fourth, fifth, sixth," Mikel insists.

The 36-year wait

"We'll always consider the Copa to be our competition," Mikel says with a grin, as he highlights the fact only Barca have more than Athletic's 23 Copa wins.

Athletic celebrate their greatest successes in a unique way. La Gabarra, a barge, floats along the Nervion river with all the players and coaching staff aboard, the claimed title taking centre-stage, while supporters line the riverbanks and bridges to join in the party.

La Gabarra is an iconic symbol of the club but, while Mikel remembers the last time it was used, many supporters will have never experienced such an occasion, for the lack of a major title since 1984 – not including the 2015 Supercopa de Espana – has seen the tradition become legend. Younger generations are consigned to looking upon the photos decorating the walls of bars on Pozas and imagining.

If ever an occasion merited its long-awaited return to the water, it's success in an all-Basque final. Just don't expect the blue-and-white contingent of the "brotherhood" to show their faces should the Copa head to San Mames for a 24th time.

Aritz Aduriz does not see his retirement nor Athletic Bilbao's Copa del Rey final with Real Sociedad as important amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The veteran striker, who has scored 172 goals in over 400 appearances for Athletic, announced his intention to retire at the end of this season back in August.

His final season as a player is set to be marked by an all-Basque Copa del Rey final between Athletic and La Real.

Originally scheduled to take place on April 18 in Seville, the Copa showpiece - along with the vast majority of sport around the world - has been put on hold.

It is not clear when the final will be played. However, Aduriz accepts even an occasion as momentous as the clash with La Real has little significance amid a crisis that has killed over 12,000 people in Spain.

"This coronavirus crisis is forcing us to think twice and consider what matters," Aduriz told Athletic's official website. "And now my retirement, or football in general, or if we will play [the Copa del Rey final] or not doesn't matter.

"I think there are many other more important things to stop and solve. I'm sure with everyone's help together, with each of us playing our role, we will get ahead of it. That's what I'm focused on at this moment and that's the most important thing."

Aduriz was born in San Sebastian, where Real Sociedad hail from, but he expects a respectful reception from their fans if and when the final goes ahead.

He added: "Maybe all of us are keeping in mind the Copa del Rey final, but we're prioritising other things now.

"We're all going through a tough time where many people are struggling a lot and even passing away…so, the final of the Copa has its importance, but maybe not that much now.

"There are other things we need to solve together, and if the day [of the final] finally comes, I'm Donostiarra [people originally from San Sebastian]. I've always felt very comfortable in Donostia [the city's Basque name] and that won't change whatever happens in any football game. I'm sure they will treat me in the same way, no doubt."

Asked about recognition for his achievements from Athletic fans, Aduriz replied: "If we've learned something from this pandemic or virus that we're struggling with, it's that we should think twice about what is important.

"I sincerely believe the people who really deserve a statue and recognition are clear nowadays, and it's not me or any football player.

"I would build a statue to those who are battling every day at the very front line against the virus in all the hospitals. They're showing us what really matters.

"We have to realise what's important and what isn't. And this is probably showing us that football isn't important enough for this kind of recognition."

Sergio Ramos has won it all for Real Madrid and Spain.

From the World Cup to the Champions League, the Madrid and Spain captain has a full trophy cabinet.

As Ramos celebrates his 34th birthday on Monday, we look at what the former Sevilla defender has achieved since moving to the Santiago Bernabeu in 2005.

 

1 – Ramos helped Spain win their first World Cup in 2010. Playing as a right-back, with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique the centre-back pairing – Ramos was crucial in Spain keeping five clean sheets in South Africa. It is his only World Cup title to date.

2 – Spain's most-capped player has two European Championship trophies to his name – Euro 2008 and Euro 2012. Ramos returned to the heart of Spain's defence for their title defence in 2012, partnering Puyol. Ramos also has a pair of Copa del Rey (2011 and 2014) successes.

4 – Not many can boast four Champions League winners' medals, but Ramos can. The face of Madrid, Ramos hoisted the coveted piece of silverware aloft in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Ramos forced extra time in the 2014 decider against Atletico Madrid as Madrid claimed 'La Decima'. He also scored in the 2016 final versus the same opponent, captaining Madrid to a remarkable three successive Champions League crowns. Just like Europe's premier club competition, Ramos has celebrated four LaLiga triumphs. He won titles under Fabio Capello (2007), Bernd Schuster (2008), Jose Mourinho (2012) and Zinedine Zidane (2017). He has also won as many Club World Cup (2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018) and Supercopa de Espana (2008, 2012, 2017 and 2019-20) finals.

3 – Ramos and Madrid dominated the UEFA Super Cup between 2014 and 2017, winning the trophy three times. He scored in the 2016 final against former club Sevilla.

21 – The amount of trophies Ramos has won as a Madrid player. Paco Gento holds the record at the Bernabeu with 23.

170 – Ramos is the most-capped player in Spain history. He surpassed former Madrid and international team-mate Iker Casillas in October after earning his 168th cap.

640 – Since swapping Sevilla for Madrid, Ramos has appeared in almost 700 games for the capital club. He is fifth on the all-time list, behind leader Raul (741).

20 – Ramos holds the all-time record for most red cards in LaLiga. In total, the Spaniard has been sent off 26 times across all competitions. He has four dismissals in the Champions League – equalled for the competition's record.

Coronavirus continued to make its presence felt across worldwide elite sport on Wednesday.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic and major American sports franchises were taking appropriate measures as European football was forced to react once more.

Sports governing bodies have also had their say, with events calendars becoming increasingly fluid.

Here are some of the latest events to be impacted.

In the United States the Golden State Warriors have confirmed their game against Brooklyn Nets on Thursday will be played behind closed doors, making them the first NBA team to make such a move following consultation with the City and County of San Francisco.

This directive also means the San Francisco Giants is working with Major League Baseball to make alternative arrangements after the planned March 24 exhibition game against the Oakland Athletics at Oracle Park was cancelled.

Seattle Mariners are hoping to relocate their opening games of the MLB regular season after Washington governor Jay Inslee announced large group events in the state would be banned throughout March.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) will stage its flagship March Madness basketball tournament "with only essential staff and limited family attendance".

Coronavirus cases in Spain have spiked, and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) has postponed the Copa del Rey final between Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao.

The showpiece fixture was due to take place in Seville on April, with reports suggesting May 30 has been pencilled as a new date.

Barcelona have cancelled training sessions at their La Masia headquarters for the next 15 days, while RFEF has recommended football at all levels beneath the top two professional leagues is called off for two weeks.

In Germany, Eintracht Frankfurt announced Thursday's Europa League game against Basel will take place behind closed doors, while this weekend's derby between Hertha Berlin and Union Berlin will also take place without supporters.

Mainz's clash with Cologne is another of the forthcoming Bundesliga games where fans have been told to stay away.

The Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal became the first football match in England to be postponed as a coronavirus precaution and City are offering refunds on tickets to future fixtures up to and including the day of the game, acknowledging unease among supporters over taking part in large gatherings at this time.

Pep Guardiola's side have matches at home to Burnley and Real Madrid over the coming week.

CONMEBOL, the governing body for football in South America announced Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana matches held in Paraguay will take place behind closed doors, in line with local government advice.

Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, will stage all remaining matches in its domestic football season without supporters, although CAF has decided to maintain its competition schedule unless the WHO declares a country in Africa to be high risk.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has postponed the Fed Cup Finals in Budapest after Hungary's government prohibited public indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

On their tour of Sri Lanka, the England cricket team have been told to avoid casual interaction with fans, such as selfies and autographs.

The Copa del Rey final between Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao has been postponed due to coronavirus pandemic, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) has confirmed.

Basque sides Sociedad and Athletic were due to play for the trophy in Seville on April 18 but the match has been pushed back by the RFEF, Stats Perform understands

According to reports in the Spanish media, the game is set to be rescheduled for May 30.

At least the next two matchdays in Spain's top two tiers will be played behind closed doors due to the proliferation of COVID-19, though the national footballers' union has requested matches be suspended.

The RFEF also announced on Wednesday that all non-professional men's and women's football and futsal matches have been postponed for two weeks.

According to the World Health Organisation, Spain has seen 1,639 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 36 deaths.

Athletic Bilbao coach Gaizka Garitano was delighted for the Basque Country after booking a spot in the Copa del Rey final against Real Sociedad.

Despite a 2-1 loss to Granada on Thursday, Athletic reached the final on the away goals rule after a 2-2 aggregate draw.

It means they will face Sociedad on April 18 in the first Basque derby Copa del Rey decider.

Garitano was thrilled by his team's progression, which came thanks to Yuri Berchiche's 81st-minute goal.

"Joy to go to a final. Congratulations to Real because they have managed to reach the final," he said, via AS.

"Happy for a Basque final, for Basque football."

Garitano added: "The team has a lot of merit … it gets out of where it doesn't exist, it doesn't lower its head in the worst situations. Happy for the people of Bilbao, many people are happy what has happened."

After Athletic won the first leg 1-0, goals from Carlos Fernandez and German Sanchez Barahona had Granada on track before Berchiche's strike.

With Athletic (10th) behind Real Sociedad (sixth) in LaLiga, Garitano feels his side's rivals have the edge.

"Right now they are superior, but we are not easy to beat," he said.

"They have great players and they are very good."

Athletic Bilbao set up a mouthwatering Basque derby against Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey final as Yuri Berchiche's late strike saw them progress on the away-goals rule after a 2-1 defeat to Granada.

Having headed into Thursday's clash leading in the tie thanks to Iker Muniain's goal in the first leg, Bilbao looked down and out after Granada turned the contest around in the second half.

With Carlos Fernandez breaking the deadlock shortly after the interval, German Sanchez's towering header seemed to have secured Granada's first appearance in a Copa del Rey final since the 1958-59 season.

Yet it was 23-time Copa winners Bilbao who prevailed – Berchiche keeping his cool from close range to secure a 2-2 aggregate draw but, most importantly, a vital away goal, to book his side's place in the final on April 18.

Imanol Alguacil hopes Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao can join Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey final after his side's 3-1 aggregate defeat of Mirandes.

La Real held a 2-1 lead from the first leg at home, and captain Mikel Oyarzabal's first-half penalty was enough for an away victory and a place in the final.

It will be Sociedad's first Copa final in 32 years, yet head coach Imanol acknowledges it would be even more special if Athletic can also progress.

Athletic visit Granada in their second leg on Thursday after winning the home clash 1-0.

Imanol said: "Of course, I want Athletic because it would be very nice for the Basque Country.

"I also like Diego [Martinez]'s Granada for what they are doing in LaLiga, but it would be very nice to have a Basque final."

Victory at Mirandes was La Real's sixth in succession across all competitions, but Imanol is confident there is more to come, with a trip to Barcelona up next in LaLiga.

"It is very difficult to put into words how one feels after reaching a final after so many years," Imanol said. "We have made a great cup campaign, winning all the matches. I want to thank everyone who has supported us.

"The most important thing now is the final. Our responsibility is to win that final and I will not rest easy. But we can win it and do something important in LaLiga.

"This is the year and we have created this opportunity. The best is still yet to come."

Real Sociedad reached the Copa del Rey final for the first time since 1988 as a 1-0 win at Mirandes on Wednesday clinched a 3-1 aggregate semi-final triumph.

The two-time Copa winners have been in outstanding form in recent weeks, climbing to sixth in LaLiga, and a sixth straight win in all competitions ended a 32-year wait to return the showpiece.

La Real will now face either Granada or Athletic Bilbao - in action on Thursday, with Sociedad's Basque rivals 1-0 up - next month after building on a narrow home lead against second-tier Mirandes.

Imanol Alguacil's side still did not quite hit the heights of their stunning quarter-final triumph at Real Madrid, but inspirational captain Mikel Oyarzabal tucked away his second penalty of the tie four minutes before half-time, and Mirandes could not recover.

Nacho Monreal hung up an early cross and Adnan Januzaj directed a towering header from it just wide, but the game's next effort of note did not follow until Limones parried clear Willian Jose's powerful 20-yard drive with 26 minutes on the clock.

That attempt came amid an improved spell from the visitors, and they had their breakthrough before the break after Mickael Malsa blocked Joseba Zaldua's cross with his arm.

Skipper Oyarzabal kept his nerve from 12 yards, sending Limones the wrong way to stretch La Real's aggregate lead and cancel out their opponents' away goal.

Januzaj went agonisingly close to a second shortly after the restart, but his swirling strike from wide on the right crashed away off the crossbar after beating Limones.

Chances were scarce at the other end, however, and Alex Remiro pounced on Matheus Aias' tame close-range header as Sociedad eased to victory, with a stoppage-time second from substitute Alexander Isak disallowed for offside.


What does it mean? Sociedad set for season of success

La Real have hit form at a great time. They are firmly in the hunt for Champions League qualification through LaLiga due to their winning run, and now a major honour is also in their sights. Sociedad will fancy their chances against either potential final opponent, but a clash with rivals Athletic would be particularly special.

Captain keeps his cool

Each leg of this tie was balanced, yet Oyarzabal stepped up with a key strike from the penalty spot on both occasions. Sociedad needed a goal before half-time and, sure enough, their skipper - the team's chief creative force throughout - dispatched the spot-kick.

Franquesa found wanting

It could quite easily have been Januzaj, not Oyarzabal, who proved Sociedad's semi-final hero. The winger gave left-back Enric Franquesa a torrid time. The gulf between the teams was evident each time the defender was isolated, and better end product from Januzaj might well have led to further goals.

What's next?

La Real's attention returns to LaLiga and a top-four bid, with champions Barcelona up next on Saturday. Mirandes have a more modest trip to Alcorcon on Sunday.

Real Sociedad scraped past second-tier Mirandes at Anoeta on Thursday to claim a narrow 2-1 first-leg advantage in their Copa del Rey semi-final.

La Real stunned Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the previous round, but Mirandes had knocked out three LaLiga teams en route to the last four and caused concern for top-flight opposition once more.

Captain Mikel Oyarzabal dispatched a ninth-minute spot-kick for Sociedad, yet they were pegged back by Matheus Aias and scarcely deserved the second Martin Odegaard lashed in to restore their lead before the interval.

The second period brought marginal improvement in the home ranks but no further goals, leaving the tie in the balance ahead of the return fixture next month.

Sociedad's opener came only after Alex Remiro was forced into a smart, low stop from Martin Merquelanz with just five minutes on the clock.

Portu earned a penalty as Odei Onaindia dallied in the area and allowed the home winger to get between man and ball before going down, and Oyarzabal coolly converted from 12 yards.

Mirandes deservedly levelled six minutes before half-time, as Mickael Malsa pounced on some careless play 20 yards from goal and fed Matheus Aias, the striker twisting to send in a low shot that deflected beyond Remiro.

But Sociedad responded swiftly. Limones spilled Odegaard's powerful drive but recovered well to block Portu's follow-up, only for the Real Madrid loanee to rifle in a second rebound.

Matheus Aias blazed over from close range heading into the break, while there were big saves at either end following the restart, Limones denying Portu before Remiro parried an Antonio Sanchez strike.

The two goalkeepers were largely underworked thereafter until Limones superbly turned away a header from one of his own defenders in the fourth minute of stoppage time, teeing up an intriguing second leg at Estadio Municipal de Anduva.


What does it mean? Sociedad warned

Mirandes' earlier exploits in this competition meant La Real had no excuse as they faced this stern examination, surely well aware of the threat their opposition posed. The LaLiga side still struggled to get to grips with Merquelanz and Alvaro Rey, though, and must be better in the return leg to get the job done.

Martin up for the cup

Odegaard is enjoying a fine season in San Sebastian, and he has saved some of his best performances for this cup run. His third goal in the competition this term came at a crucial time, while a gorgeous pass early in the second half set Portu through, the busy wide man unable to beat Limones for a two-goal lead that might have put the tie beyond Mirandes.

Lacking in key areas

On the balance of play - particularly in the first half - Mirandes were good value for at least a draw from this first leg, but shortcomings at either end of the pitch proved costly. Onaindia paid the price as he reacted slowly to a ball into the box and felled Portu, while Matheus Aias, despite scoring a fortunate equaliser, missed one big opportunity.

What's next?

Focus returns to league action for the coming weeks, with La Real visiting Eibar on Sunday as Mirandes host Albacete. The two sides reconvene for the Copa second leg at Mirandes on March 4.

Page 1 of 5
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.