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Athletic aiming for seventh time lucky in Mallorca Copa final

Athletic aiming for seventh time lucky in Mallorca Copa final

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Athletic Bilbao are the second most successful team in Copa del Rey history

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Barcelona (AFP) – Athletic Bilbao are the second most successful team in Copa del Rey history but they have tasted defeat in each of their last six final appearances.

Ernesto Valverde's side are aiming to end that torrid streak on Saturday when they face Real Mallorca at La Cartuja in Seville.

With brothers Inaki and Nico Williams propelling Athletic's dangerous attack, they are firm favourites, although the underdog dynamic is one Mallorca coach Javier Aguirre and his team thrive in.

Los Leones' last Copa triumph came as part of a domestic double in 1984, before any of their current squad were born.

The 23-time winners are making their 40th final appearance against Aguirre's hard-working Mallorca, who lifted the cup for the first and only time in 2003 and will be playing only their fourth final.

Most painfully for Athletic, currently fifth in La Liga, in 2021 they lost two Copa finals in the same month.The 2020 final, against Basque rivals Real Sociedad, was delayed until April 3, 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They suffered an agonising 1-0 defeat against their fiercest rivals, before Barcelona thrashed them 4-0 a fortnight later in the 2021 final, their most recent.

Adding insult to injury, fans were not allowed in the stadium for those matches and Inaki Williams says getting to play in front of their supporters could be crucial.

"With the good season that we've had we've got the fans excited again and we know that we have a big responsibility, but we will try to bring them a victory," said the Ghana international.

"Thousands will go to Seville to support us and we will leave our skins out there and hope the coin falls our way."

' Without fear'

Despite the club's defeats in the 1985, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2020 and 2021 finals, Inaki Williams said Athletic could not be afraid of losing again.

"We are calm, with the confidence that we can do well, because very few teams have been able to beat us this season," continued the striker, who scored against record 31-time champions Barcelona and Atletico on the run to the final.

"We know Athletic are going through a moment of very good form, with a lot of players at a very good level.

"That's what we will try to capture in the final -- to be ourselves, play with bravery, as we are doing, and without fear of defeat."

Inaki's brother Nico missed the team's La Liga loss at Real Madrid last weekend with a hamstring issue, but is expected to return for the final.

Alex Berenguer has filled in brilliantly for him at times this season, another example of Athletic's strength in depth compared to Mallorca, whom the Basques thrashed 4-0 in February in La Liga.

"Athletic are the favourites, everyone knows it," Mallorca striker Vedat Muriqi told Cadena SER radio this week.

If the islanders are to find a way past one of Spain's strongest defences, the physical strike partnership of target man Muriqi and Cyle Larin could be crucial on the counter.

"They have more experience in this game, but they haven't won in 40 years and they are favourites, -- they have too much pressure, more than us," continued Muriqi.

"We can use it to our advantage and if we start the game well, we will have our chances." Wily Mallorca coach Aguirre, 65, finished as Copa runners-up with Osasuna in 2005 in his only final appearance.

The Mexican took Mallorca past high-flying Girona and then Real Sociedad on penalties to reach the final.

"Aguirre is like having another player, he has that experience and knows how to talk to the referee, how to motivate, how to demotivate... we are lucky to have this coach," added Muriqi.