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On Thursday at 9.00pm CET, FC Barcelona begin their Copa del Rey campaign with a game against third tier Unión Esportiva Cornellà. Here’s a closer look at the team that got here by knocking out none other than Atlético Madrid.
Where are they from?
This game is a local derby. Cornellà de Llobregat is a municipality on the south-west outskirts of metropolitan Barcelona, with a population of around 87,000 people. In football circles, it is best known for being the site of RCD Espanyol’s current stadium, completed in 2009. It’s also within walking distance of Barça’s Ciutat Esportiva training ground.
Founded in 1951, following a merger of two older clubs, UE Cornellà spent its entire existence in the fourth tier of Spanish football or below until 2014, when it won promotion to the third tier Division 2B for the first time. They have stayed there ever since, and have performed well, qualifying for the promotion playoffs in the last three seasons. Times have never been healthier at the club, during which time it also won its first Copa Catalunya title in 2018.
The team wears green and white striped jerseys and green shorts.
The Nou Estadi Municipal was opened in 2012 and is located just a few metres away from Espanyol’s stadium. It holds just 1,500 people, all seated along one of the touchlines. When they played Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey in 2014, they borrowed Espanyol’s ground for the occasion, but the limited capacity won’t be an issue against Barça due to Covid-19 restrictions forbidding spectators. The playing surface is artificial grass.
Cornellà’s youth system is so strong that it is sometimes regarded as Catalonia’s third biggest nursery of football talent after Barça and Espanyol. The most familiar of those products is Barça’s very own Jordi Alba, who spent two years there before getting signed up by Valencia. Indeed the meeting and video room at the ground is named after the player, and the club itself gained benefitted financially from his subsequent move from Valencia to the Camp Nou.
Others include Senegal international Keita Baldé, currently at Sampdoria, Víctor Ruiz (Betis) and Enric Gallego (Osasuna)
Head to head
This will be the first ever meeting between the teams, although Cornellà regularly play against Barça B. In fact they are currently in the same division, and Barça won 1-0 away when the sides met earlier this season. Iñaki Peña, Konrad and Ilaix all featured in that game, in which Alex Collado scored the solitary goal.
Last five league games
RCD Espanyol B 1-0 UE Cornellà
CF Badalona 3-0 UE Cornellà
UE Cornellà 0-1 FC Barcelona B
Nàstic de Tarragona 2-2 UE Cornellà
UE Olot 2-2 UE Cornellà
After winning four of their first five games, Cornellà have now gone for six without a win in their eleven-team league group, and currently lie in eighth place. As things stand that would mean going into one of the relegation groups for the latter part of the season. But they are just three points behind Barça B, who are third, so there is time yet for anything to happen.
Copa del Rey
Their Copa del Rey run began with a 1-0 win at Marino in the Canary Islands. That earned them a high-profile match-up with Liga leaders Atlético Madrid. Diego Simeone was made to pay for opting to field a young and inexperienced side for that fixture, as Cornellà pulled off one of the biggest cupsets in recent memory. They won 1-0 to qualify for the round of 32 for only the second time in club history.
Midfielder Albert Dorca also spent time in the Barça academy, forging a particularly close friendships with goalkeeper Victor Valdés and also playing in the same team a quiet, pale and raky young lad called Andrés Iniesta. Dorca, now 38 years old, went on to play for a host of different clubs, almost always in the Second Division to the extent that he is the player with the third highest number of appearances of all time in that category.
Other more experienced players include centre back Borja García, who played top flight football for Racing Santander, and Rulo Prieto was on the Huesca side that won promotion to La Liga in 2018 but was transferred that summer.
Midfielder Cristian Lobato (pictured below) played for Barça B and in 2011 joined the first team on its preseason US Tour, where he even got playing time under Pep Guardiola. As well as spell at Sporting Kansas City in MLS he has also played first division football for Osasuna. Sadly, he'll miss this game through injury.
The club has a partnership arrangement with English Championship side Birmingham City, and Agus Medina and Iván Guzmán are both on loan from that club.
Cornellà will be unable to field a full-strength side against Barça, both due to a series of injuries, while Covid-19 has also had an impact on some players. One of the absentees is Adrian Jiménez, better known as Rubio, a local hero after scoring the winning goal against Atlético Madrid. He's picked up a nasty knee injury and is going to have to sit this one out.
The team is coached by Guillermo Fernández, whose previous positions have included SD Ejea (Aragon), FC Jumilla (Murcia), CE Sabadell (Catalonia) and Olímpic Xàtiva (Valencia).
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