Sports

Future of Boise soccer game at stake in Copa del Rey

Fans who can’t wait for the Basque Soccer Friendly in July get a sneak preview of one of the clubs Saturday.

Athletic Bilbao, which is committed to the game in Boise, takes on international power Barcelona at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2 in the championship of the Copa del Rey, the top soccer tournament in Spain. And the result of the game determines when Bilbao comes to Idaho.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s on the line.

JULY 18, 19 OR 29?

Bilbao threaded the needle to complicate plans for the Basque Soccer Friendly, which pits Bilbao against Mexico’s Club Tijuana at Albertsons Stadium on what is supposed to be July 29.

Bilbao finished seventh in the top Spanish league last weekend. By finishing seventh, Bilbao earned a spot in a qualifying round of the 2015-16 Europa League, the second most prestigious club tournament in Europe.

The first leg of qualifying starts July 30, a day after the planned game in Boise. Bilbao could not field a competitive team on two separate continents a day apart.

But Bilbao can bypass the qualifying round and go directly into the Europa League group stage by beating Barcelona on Saturday to become the Spanish cup champion.

So what’s the bottom line?

If Bilbao beats Barcelona — in Barcelona — the Basque Soccer Friendly remains at 7 p.m. July 29 at Albertsons Stadium.

If it doesn’t, Bilbao will still come to Boise. But the game will be moved to either July 18 or 19.

Only a seventh-place finish by Bilbao could trigger all these complications in Bilbao’s preseason schedule, complications that were in the original contract for the game, said Argia Beristain, the sponsorship director for the Basque Soccer Friendly.

HOW LIKELY IS THE GAME TO BE MOVED?

Can I interest you in 12-1 odds?

That’s how heavily some sports books are favoring Barcelona, and thus a change of date for the Basque Soccer Friendly.

Barcelona is one of the superpowers of world soccer, featuring international stars Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. It edged Real Madrid for the Spanish league title, winning 30 of its 38 La Liga matches. And it has clinched a spot in the UEFA Champions League final.

A Champions League title is the highest honor a club team can earn. Some soccer fans argue the level of play in a Champions League final is higher than a World Cup final.

Meanwhile, Bilbao won half as many games during its La Liga schedule, finished a distant seventh and lost its two matches to Barcelona — 2-0 at on the road and 5-2 at home — this season.

A win for Bilbao would qualify as a huge upset. But the calendar provides it an opportunity.

Barcelona has to turn around and play Italy’s Juventus on June 6 in the Champions League final. So it may opt to rest players for the more prestigious title. And Suarez — who gained worldwide infamy during the 2014 World Cup for biting an Italian who plays for Juventus — has not played since May 12 while nursing a hamstring injury.

Bilbao also already has a major upset to its name this season. After falling 5-0 to Real Madrid in their first meeting, it upset the international power 1-0 on March 7 in Bilbao. It also beat Barcelona in its first meeting last season.

DO THE TICKETS I BOUGHT STILL WORK?

Beristain said tickets for the July 29 game will be honored if the game is moved to July 18 or 19.

She added organizers are developing a plan for refunds for fans that can’t attend a game 10 or 11 days earlier than originally planned.

Organizers will announce those plans once they know for sure they have to move the game.

WHAT IS THE COPA DEL REY ANYWAY?

Started in 1903 and translated as “The King’s Cup,” it is Spain’s top club tournament.

Soccer teams throughout the world compete for two major domestic championships each season — a league title and a tournament, or cup, title.

A league title is determined as the team with the best regular-season record. Postseason playoffs are rare in soccer.

The cup is played during the league season, but it is competed separately from the league and is open to teams around the country outside the top league.

The La Liga title remains more important to Barcelona and its fans. But by beating Bilbao and winning the Copa del Rey, it can chase a spot in history.

Only seven European clubs have won a league title, a cup title and the Champions League in one season, known as the “treble,” including Barcelona in 2008-09. Barcelona can’t win the “treble” without first beating Bilbao, so it has an incentive to field a strong team a week ahead of the Champions League final.

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