And so in the end, there it was: the most famous smile in Spanish football. Late, very late on Saturday, Joaquín Sánchez lifted the Copa del Rey into the sky in Seville, his city, having become the only player in Real Betis’s history to win the competition for a second time. It took 17 years and two days but Betis have the third cup in their history and their captain has the perfect last dance. He was there when they won it in 2005, and he was there again last night, two months off his 41st birthday as a dramatic penalty shootout delivered his dream.
This final, he had said, was a reward for 20 years of love for the game and it was hard not to love this moment, his moment. All of theirs. Hard too not to feel sad for Yunus Musah, whose missed penalty saw the trophy slip from Valencia’s grasp. Joaquín, who missed the vital spot-kick that put Spain out of the World Cup 20 long years ago, knows how that feels. He almost felt it again too, his own effort here just squeezing in at the post. He escaped, Musah didn’t, and at 12.50am Juan Miranda scored to spark wild scenes, people running across the pitch.
Manuel Pellegrini, too, had done it. After 63 years and having taken charge of almost 2,500 games between them, this was a first Copa del Rey final for both coaches, and the Chilean came dressed for the occasion. The stats showed that Betis win 63% of matches when he wears the club’s tracksuit, and only 39% when he doesn’t. So here he was, Kappa’d up on the touchline, celebrating at the start and at the very end.
Only 10 minutes had passed when Nabil Fekir released Héctor Bellerín up the right, and he delivered the perfect cross for Borja Iglesias to rise and thump a header into the net. Another 110 more minutes would go by plus penalties before it was eventually done.
Betis had control earlier than they could have imagined, Valencia uneasy when they were put under pressure. Mouctar Diakhaby in particular appeared a little lost in those opening minutes, although he would recover. He had already been caught in the middle of the pitch, unaware of the opponent behind him and he almost gifted Iglesias a second with a dreadful back-pass.
This was an enjoyable opening and there were other chances, Juanmi heading wide from Álex Moreno’s cross before a lovely touch from Iglesias saw Bellerín dash deep into the Valencia area, where he was just unable to complete the cut-back. But then, suddenly, without warning, momentum shifted to José Bordalás’ team.
The move was as superb as it was swift: Carlos Soler to Ilaix Moriba and on to Hugo Duro, sprinting clear right through the middle to lift a gorgeous, calm finish over Claudio Bravo. Betis had lost the lead and seemingly the game with it, the passing less crisp now, their dominion diminished, although Sergio Canales hit the post just before half-time.
Emboldened, Valencia took a step forward that became even more determined as the second half began. Twice inside 10 minutes they should have added to the scoring. The first time, Duro turned over from close range after Bravo got a hand to José Luis Gayá’s pull back. The second a surging run from Dimitri Foulquier, made the space from which Soler and Gonçalo Guedes combined to create for Moriba. The ball dropped for him at the far post, asking to be hit but he almost missed it entirely, swiping at the volley.
Warming up on the touchline, Joaquín appealed for Betis’ fans to get behind the team. If their relative quiet was understandable given the way this game had moved away from them, it was only temporary and soon they were taking the roof off again, hardly able to believe it when another exceptional touch from lglesias didn’t bring them the lead. His backheel went through the legs of the defender to Juanmi seven yards out, but Giorgi Mamardashvili saved, as he would do often. Canales then shot wide as the game swung back again, Iglesias especially active, before Juanmi hit the post.
Valencia were forced ever further back, perhaps fortunate not to see Hugo Guillamón receive a second yellow. It was all about holding on now, although the threat on the break was always there. Iglesias shot over, having briefly paused to ask for a penalty – not entirely without reason – and William Carvalho smuggled the ball to Fekir, who was denied by Mamardashvili. He should have scored; with two minutes left, Valencia might have done, but Thierry Correia chose the wrong option when he was sent running through.
That was just the start of a wild minute in which Iglesias drew yet another save from Mamardashvili at one end and Bryan Gil outran Bellerín in the middle of the pitch to set up what might have been a dramatic end. Guedes found Soler, the cup appearing in front of him – but Bravo doing so too.
This was fun and there were going to be 30 minutes more. And the rest. Tense, tired, barely able to walk, it would come down to penalties, and the kind of ending that had been waiting a long time to be written.