Why are Real Madrid Playing on African Continent for Copa del Rey Clash?

Why are Real Madrid Playing on African Continent for Copa del Rey Clash?
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Published October 30th, 2018 - 18:41 GMT via SyndiGate.info

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The 19-time winners of the knockout competition begin their quest for a 20th title on the north coast of Africa
The 19-time winners of the knockout competition begin their quest for a 20th title on the north coast of Africa

Real Madrid will face one of the most unusual Copa del Rey matches in their 116-year history on Wednesday as they will have to travel to Africa to play their first game of the tournament away to Melilla.

Los Blancos have entered the competition at the last-32 stage and have been paired with the third-tier side, who hail from a Spanish autonomous city on the north coast of Africa, sharing a border with Morocco.

With a population of around 80,000, it is one of two cities to enjoy such a status, with the other being Ceuta, which lies further along the coast to the west. Although officially claimed by Morocco, they have been under Spanish control for more than 500 years.

Melilla has recently made the news as it has been a location where refugees have tried to get access to 'European soil' without having to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

The first leg of the two-legged affair will be the first time Los Blancos have travelled to face Melilla in competitive action and will take place at the 12,000-seater Estadio Municipal Alvarez Claro, which lies around 350 miles south of the Spanish capital, on October 31 before the return match at the Bernabeu on December 5.

It is a journey that the Primera Division side are poised to make without a head coach, having sacked Julen Lopetegui on Monday following a 5-1 Clasico loss at the hands of Barcelona on Sunday.

While Antonio Conte is currently in negotiations to take over at the Bernabeu, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino appears an increasingly strong candidate for the role, though neither is likely to be in place by the time Madrid make the trip.

As such Santiago Solari is liable to be in charge, having been hastily promoted from the 'B' team.

Who are UD Melilla?

Melilla has its own football federation, which was founded in 1999, although it has no affiliation with FIFA, CAF or UEFA. Parallels could be drawn with football in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, although Melilla have not attempted to form a team that represents the enclave.

Meanwhile, UD Melilla is the city’s foremost team, having been founded in its current guise in 1976, although there has been a football team in the enclave since 1921.

They have enjoyed a solid presence in Spain’s Segunda Division B over the years, having won promotion to the third level in 1987. Since then, they have never been relegated, while they even finished second in 2010, when they were denied promotion in the playoffs as they went down 4-0 to Las Palmas.

Their league obligations see them in a regional group that involves teams playing in the south of Spain, with the likes of Sevilla Atletico, Marbella, Murcia and even Ibiza in their pool.

So far this season, they lie second in the table, boasting six wins from 10 matches and having suffered only one defeat.

Meanwhile, they have qualified for the Copa del Rey on numerous occasions but have rarely known much success in the knockout competition. Indeed, they have fallen in the first round in 16 of the 24 occasions they have played.

This will be just the second time that they have qualified for the last 32, with the previous occurrence coming back in 2012-13.

On that occasion they were drawn against a Levante side who went on to finish 11th in La Liga and were playing in the Europa League. And Melilla caused the Valencian side major difficulties; they won the first leg 1-0 thanks to a first-half penalty and were only eliminated 4-2 on aggregate after conceding three times late on in the second match.

This season, they have reached the last 32 thanks to an extra-time victory over fourth-tier outfit Yeclano, a thumping 3-0 home win over Tudelano and a 2-0 win over Otinyent.

Their forthcoming clash against Real Madrid, therefore, stands as the biggest match in the club’s history.

They are not, however, the only team on the African continent to play in the Copa del Rey this season.

Are there other teams who play abroad?

Historically, they have enjoyed a rivalry with Ceuta, a club that hails from the other Spanish enclave on Africa. When the teams play, rather than take a direct 400-kilometre drive, they go via the Spanish mainland to avoid travelling through Morocco.

Playing in the fourth tier, the Tercera Division (fourth tier) club were knocked out of the first round of the competition this season against UCAM Murcia, although they have three times reached the last 32 of the Copa del Rey, where they have been beaten by Cordoba, Valencia and Real Oviedo.

No African-based side has ever gone further than this round, though if Melilla were to upset Real Madrid over two legs it would go down as one of the greatest footballing shocks in history.

Meanwhile, Spain is not the only country to have such unusual cup trips, with their trip paling into comparison with the potential some French clubs face in the Coupe de France.

France has overseas territories as distant as New Caledonia and Tahiti in the east, and Guadeloupe and French Guiana in the west. If Paris Saint-Germain had been drawn against AS Dragon in this season’s competition, for example, they could have theoretically faced a round trip of near 20,000 miles to play the fixture on Tahiti.

Thankfully for PSG and France’s other sides, they have already been knocked out.

In the United Kingdom, Berwick Rangers play in the Scottish Professional Football League, despite being based in England, while Glasgow club Queen's Park reached the final of the FA Cup in 1884. Until recently, Scottish club Gretna also played in the FA Cup until 2002, last reaching the first round proper in 1993-94.

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