Why Barcelona will play Copa del Rey tie on coast of Africa

After successful the Spanish Supercopa in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Barcelona are off to the continent of Africa on Thursday to renew their Copa del Rey marketing campaign towards a membership run by a former “Big Brother” contestant.

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This will not be one other case of the Royal Spanish Football Federation [RFEF] taking the sport on tour for money, although, however a round-of-16 tie at AD Ceuta (stream LIVE Thursday, 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+ within the U.S.). After needing further time to edge out third-division aspect Intercity 4-3 within the final spherical, Barca have been handed a visit to Spain’s tiny territory of Ceuta, which borders Morocco on the northern coast of Africa.

“It’s a beautiful city, lodged between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, with four cultures that live in harmony,” former Barca and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder and Ceuta-born Mohamed Ali Amar, higher generally known as Nayim, informed ESPN.

Ceuta, with a inhabitants of round 85,000 individuals and an space of simply 7 sq. miles, has been in Spain’s possession since 1580. However, Morocco doesn’t formally recognise it as Spanish territory. That has led to flash factors — as just lately as 2021, when the Moroccan authorities loosened border controls — however Nayim says any diplomatic pressure has not spilled into metropolis life.

“It’s an example for society,” he mentioned. “There are big Muslim and Christian communities and smaller Hebrew and Hindu communities. It’s a city where you all live together very peacefully and enjoy the Mediterranean gastronomy.”

Large swathes of the inhabitants have Moroccan roots from bygone generations, together with Nayim. The metropolis is nearer to Tangier and Rabat than Madrid and Barcelona, which led to an fascinating emotional tug-of-war when Morocco met on the World Cup in Qatar and surprised the world by successful the round-of-16 tie on penalties.

“I wasn’t in the city for the game, but it evoked a lot of passion,” added Nayim, who famously scored a stunning 119th-minute winner for Real Zaragoza towards Arsenal within the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup last by lobbing goalkeeper David Seaman from 40 yards.

“[Morocco] proved they are not a small team and they got what they deserved. It was incredible how that [semifinal] run was experienced in Ceuta, but also across Morocco and in Spain, where there is a huge Moroccan population. They are passionate football people.

“And Ceuta is absolutely a football-crazy city. Some great players have come from there: Migueli who played for Barca [from 1973-88], Pirri spent many years at Real Madrid [1964-80] and is a legend there, Jose Bravo, the Lesmes brothers [Francisco and Rafael, the latter of whom won five European Cups with Real Madrid from 1955-60].

“So many gamers have performed within the metropolis. So many children play soccer there. There are increasingly scouts from the massive [Spanish] golf equipment there as a result of the construction is best and higher on a regular basis. There are children now at Madrid and Villarreal. It’s a spot that loves soccer.”

That love has not translated into results this season for the football club, which was founded in 1956 and has been part of the Spanish league system ever since. Ceuta sit bottom of Group 1 of the Primera RFEF — one of two regionalised third-tier leagues — with just two wins all season. Perhaps that is to be expected, though, when their division also features teams from as far away as Galicia, including fallen giants Deportivo La Coruna, who are a 12-hour drive away from Ceuta once you get to the Spanish mainland.

Barcelona is 13 hours away, although Xavi Hernandez’s side won’t be taking the bus. They plan to fly to Malaga, on Spain’s south coast, before taking helicopters over the Mediterranean and into Ceuta, which is a common way for visitors and residents to make the crossing.

It should be more comfortable journey than the team representing Melilla, another Spanish enclave in north Africa, had to take to get to Madrid in 2018. Melilla had to take a ferry, a bus and an airplane as part of an 11-hour journey through the night to the capital to face Real Madrid. They travelled having already lost the first leg at home 4-0, and a 6-1 defeat at the Bernabeu was their reward for the gruelling trip.

Away from their disastrous league form, the Copa del Rey has proved a welcome distraction for Ceuta, whose president Luhay Hamido was a contestant on Spain’s Big Brother back in 2003. They have beaten second-division Ibiza and LaLiga side Elche to make it this far. They hope to add 31-time winners Barca to that list at the 6,500-capacity Estadio Alfonso Murube on Thursday and may well use Xavi’s post-draw comments as extra motivation. The coach of the Catalan side said they had been “fortunate” to be paired with the smallest team left in the competition.

Ceuta coach Jose Juan Romero hit back by saying: “He [Xavi] might have mentioned it in one other method. It hasn’t sat effectively with me, the membership or anybody.

“We won’t go into the game to ask for shirts, we will go after them. Then, after the game, we will see who was lucky.”

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