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.

Athletic Bilbao have taken charge of their Copa del Rey semi-final after claiming a 1-0 win over Granada at San Mames, but they will be frustrated at failing to secure a more commanding victory.

Gaizka Garitano's men were in control for most of the game, crafting several big chances and having two goals disallowed, but only take a slender victory to Granada for the second leg.

It came as little surprise when Athletic went in front in the 42nd minute, as Iker Muniain tapped home after fine work from Inaki Williams on the left flank.

Athletic remained the dominant side after the interval, but twice offside calls prevented them doubling their advantage, giving Diego Martinez's Granada hope for March's return encounter.

After an even start, Athletic began to carve through Granada regularly and went agonisingly close to the breakthrough in the 15th minute, but Rui Silva tipped Wiliams' fierce drive wide.

Two chances then fell to Mikel Vesga soon after – Silva palming his wicked long-range strike away from the top-left corner, before then blocking a tamer effort from inside the box a few minutes later.

Athletic eventually got the deserved opener just before half-time, the lively Williams brilliantly bringing down a lofted pass with his chest and then showing great composure to tee up an easy close-range finish for Muniain.

The hosts were twice denied a second goal inside the first 15 minutes of the second half, with Yeray Alvarez's strike chalked off for offside before Ander Capa's 20-yard volley was disallowed after a VAR review adjudged the offside Williams to have obstructed Silva's sight.

Granada began to offer some attacking threat towards the end, with Unai Simon turning Carlos Neva's drive around the post and then catching Maxime Gonalons' header from the resulting corner, as Athletic held on.

 

What does it mean?

Athletic have the aggregate lead, but Granada are not to be underestimated and represent formidable opponents in their own stadium.

In 12 home matches across all competitions this season, Granada have won eight. Three of the four teams to take something away from the Nuevo Los Carmenes are Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad, all of whom are in the top six.

When there's a Williams, there's a way

More or less everything good about Athletic's play went through Muniain or Williams, or both, but the latter was the standout performer. He gave the Granada defence so many issues with his pace and movement, and his role in the winning goal was just sublime.

Machis anonymous

Granada struggled immensely to offer any form of attacking threat, with Carlos Fernandez and Roberto Soldado provided with poor service. Darwin Machis should have been one of the players supporting them, but he touched the ball just 13 times before his 71st-minute withdrawal, failing to create a single chance.

What's next?

Athletic welcome Osasuna on Sunday as they return to LaLiga action, having not won any of their past eight league matches. Granada play host to Real Valladolid the day before. The two sides resume hostilities in the second leg at the Nuevo Los Carmenes on March 5.

Aritz Aduriz hopes to end his Athletic Bilbao career by winning the Copa del Rey, admitting he had grown tired of watching Barcelona and Real Madrid "win everything".

Athletic knocked Barca out of the competition at the quarter-final stage last week thanks to a stoppage-time own goal from Sergio Busquets.

Madrid had earlier been defeated 4-3 at home by Athletic's Basque rivals Real Sociedad, marking the first time in 65 years that Spain's grandest two clubs had been eliminated from the Copa on the same day.

The semi-finals will see Athletic face Granada and Sociedad take on Mirandes, with the decision to reformat the competition by removing two-legged ties prior to the last four paying dividends for some of Spain's lesser lights.

Aduriz was part of the team beaten by Barca in the 2015 final, during the Catalans' run of winning the trophy in four consecutive years.

Indeed, Athletic have lost three Copa finals to Barca since 2009, and Aduriz is now eager to end his career by making the most of a more level playing field.

"[The new format] is not discredited; on the contrary, it has more value," said the striker at the Panenka magazine gala. "We are a little tired of seeing Barcelona and Real Madrid win everything.

"But it is nice to see competitions with more dynamism. You can see it in England, [where] it's enriching. It's a format that people like.

"I have been fantasising about [winning the cup] for a long time. At the beginning, it was a fantasy, and it may be closer now, although it is very difficult.

"Imagine retiring from football this season and winning a title. It's anyone's dream."

Aduriz also made it clear he is in favour of VAR, despite persistent criticism of the technology from across Europe's top leagues.

VAR has been criticised since its introduction, but Aduriz stressed he is in favour of the new technology.

"I love VAR," he said. "It is clear that we have to improve. It is new and it will evolve, but there is more success than the opposite.

"It makes me calmer on the pitch."

Barcelona supporters can expect to see more of young attacker Alex Collado but head coach Quique Setien admitted Riqui Puig's first-team chances could be limited this season.

Collado has made just one LaLiga appearance this term, playing for five minutes as a substitute in Barca's 2-0 defeat at Valencia in January, while Puig has played for 22 minutes across two cameos.

The pair are seen as two of the club's brightest prospects as established players like Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets enter the latter stages of their careers, and Setien indicated that Collado's ability to play as part of a front three means he is of more immediate use than central midfielder Puig.

"They are two very different kind of players," Setien told reporters.

"We try to think which player we need most at certain times of the game. They're two very good players and they've both got chances to play. We're getting to know them better every day.

"We're seeing what they're capable of doing for us in every training session. It's a time of learning.

"With Riqui there are a lot of players in the position where he would normally play but Collado, playing up front, he's going to get chances. We'll have to see how things go."

Setien saw his players get knocked out of the Copa del Rey on Thursday, when they were beaten 1-0 by Athletic Bilbao.

As he prepared for Sunday's trip to face his former club Real Betis, he reflected on the positive aspects of that game and indicated he is hopeful of ending a three-game winless run on the road in LaLiga.

"It's about the dynamic of how this team has been playing away from home for some time," said Setien. "The other day I thought we improved a lot but unfortunately the result didn't go our way.

"We need to try to take the good conclusions from that game and it's a question of getting back out onto the pitch, playing another game. There's not much time to dwell on your sorrows at this club. You need to be fresh and lucid.

"We've improved a lot. We're seeing continuity but the three points are important because we want to be chasing for the title until the end.

"It's time to ratify the improvement in the cup at a really difficult ground.

"We were hurt by losing the cup game but we've learned a lot from it."

Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad could meet in the Copa del Rey final after the Basque rivals were kept apart in the semi-final draw.

Sociedad secured their place in the last four with a thrilling 4-3 win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Thursday, with Athletic beating Barcelona 1-0 hours later thanks to a last-gasp Inaki Williams header.

It marked the first time in 65 years that LaLiga's top two clubs were eliminated from the Copa on the same day.

Gaizka Garitano's Athletic will now face Granada, who knocked out holders Valencia in the quarter-finals, while Sociedad will meet Segunda Division side Mirandes.

Athletic and Sociedad will host their respective first legs, which take place on February 12, with the return fixtures scheduled for March 4.

The final is expected to be held on April 18 at La Cartuja in Seville, which last hosted a major club football match in 2003, when it staged the UEFA Cup final between Porto and Celtic.

Barcelona have been branded "a club of clowns" by Christophe Dugarry after a dismal week for the club culminated in Copa del Rey elimination.

A 1-0 quarter-final loss to Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Thursday was the latest blow for Barca in a turbulent period.

After failing to sign an attacker before the end of the January transfer deadline, Ousmane Dembele suffered a hamstring tear that requires surgery and is expected to miss the rest of campaign.

Sporting director Eric Abidal also gave an interview in which he cited a lack of effort being put in by some players as a motivating factor for the dismissal of Ernesto Valverde, which drew the ire of Lionel Messi.

There have consequently been reports Messi could leave Camp Nou at the end of the season, and Dugarry – who spent six months at Barca in the 1997-98 season – was scathing in his criticism of the way the club has been run in recent years.

"It's a club of clowns. Everything is done backwards," Dugarry said on RMC Sport.

"They buy [Philippe] Coutinho, Dembele, they buy guys and then sell them. You get the impression there is no project in this club.

"At every transfer window there is a problem. They've recruited very badly since the departures of Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta. They've spent loads.

"And above all they have a very bad image. There are far too many people who do not have the elegance, the class that there should be at a club of this standing.

"It's really a club that has no class."

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