Athletic Bilbao’s Copa del Rey semifinal victory over Atlético Madrid marred by chaotic scenes

Matias Grez, CNN | 3/1/2024, 10:23 a.m.
Athletic Bilbao reached the Copa del Rey final for the third time in the last five years, but Thursday’s victory …
Chaotic scenes marred Athletic Bilbao's Copa del Rey win over Atlético Madrid. Mandatory Credit: Vincent West/Reuters via CNN Newsource

Athletic Bilbao reached the Copa del Rey final for the third time in the last five years, but Thursday’s victory over Atlético Madrid was marred by chaotic scenes ahead of the match.

Goals from the Williams brothers, Iñaki and Nico, and Gorka Guruzeta gave Bilbao a comfortable 3-0 victory on the night and 4-0 on aggregate to set up a final showdown with Real Mallorca on April 6. However, it was the scenes before the match that drew a lot of attention on social media.

In one video, taken by Movistar+ journalist Marta Garrido, fans with flares can be seen apparently trying to break down the fence outside the San Mamés stadium.

“It’s the first time I’ve been scared in a football stadium,” Garrido posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “[This happened] after the arrival of the Athletic bus to San Mamés.

“They have knocked down the fences and tried to enter the stadium. This is what we have experienced firsthand, I thought they were going to kill us.”

In an interview with radio station Cadena SER, the wife of an Atlético fan said that her husband and a group of roughly 15 Colchonero fans were attacked while eating in a restaurant before kick-off: “Suddenly, a group came in … bulldozing everyone.

“They called the police and said that they couldn’t go there … they couldn’t go there because they didn’t have available men,” Ana – who didn’t share her last name – told Cadena SER’s ‘El Larguero’ program.

“[My husband] went to go help [a girl who was assaulted] and they threw him to the ground, they hit him and broke his phone. He just wrote me that they got onto the bus, he thinks his jaw is broken from a kick he received and they’re upset.”

Speaking to Movistar+, Atlético president Enrique Cerezo said one supporter had been taken to hospital after an incident at a bar involving a group of Bilbao fans ahead of the game, though it’s not clear if he was referencing the incident involving Ana’s husband.

“We come to football to make friends and not to have problems,” he said. “Football is football. Attacks or rights violations of any citizen to watch football without any problem cannot be tolerated.”

CNN has reached out to Atlético Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, the Royal Spanish Football Federation and local police for comment.

In addition to the scenes prior to kick-off, the second half of the match was delayed due to a medical emergency in the stands, Bilbao said.

“A person was asphyxiating and, thanks to the medical services, was stabilised and taken to hospital,” the club added.

Since last winning its 23rd Copa del Rey in 1984, Bilbao has been to six finals and lost all of them. While it has lifted two Spanish Super Cups in recent years, the club has not won a major trophy in 40 years.

The Williams’ brotherly connection was on full display in Thursday’s win, with each sibling assisting the other for their goal.

“Our connection is real and it’s working very well, we understand each other,” Nico Williams said, per ESPN. “I’m delighted, it’s a dream to reach the final and to do it in front of our fans that were fantastic as always. Athletic can do it all and, hopefully, win the final.”

Real Mallorca, currently just two places above the La Liga relegation zone, has won the Copa once before in 2003 in what was its last visit to the final.