Madrid waits on Benzema and Vinícius for Copa quarterfinals
MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid will have to wait until the last minute to know if Vinícius Júnior and Karim Benzema will be in condition to play in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals against Athletic Bilbao on Thursday.
Benzema is recovering from a muscle injury and Vinícius is among the players returning from international duty just a day before the match at San Mamés Stadium in Bilbao.
Brazilians Rodrygo and Casemiro will also arrive on Wednesday alongside Vinícius, and Uruguay’s Federico Valverde is expected to return on the same day. Éder Militão was back ahead of time after only playing one game with Brazil. The Brazilians host Paraguay in South American qualifying on Tuesday, while Uruguay hosts Venezuela.
Rayo Vallecano, which hosts Mallorca in another Copa quarterfinal on Wednesday, will likely be without Colombia striker Radamel Falcao as his team plays against Argentina on Tuesday.
Among the players missing for Real Betis in its quarterfinal at Real Sociedad on Thursday will be Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who got hurt in his national team’s game against Argentina.
The other quarterfinal on Wednesday is between Valencia and Cádiz. Host Valencia will be looking to return to the semifinals after a two-year absence. Cádiz only made it to the last four in the Copa in 1990.
Madrid, seeking its first Copa trophy since 2013-14, has been carried by Benzema and Vinícius all season long. Benzema, the team’s leading striker, had to be replaced because of a left leg muscle injury in the second half of the team’s 2-2 draw against Elche in the Spanish league before the international break. The injury was not serious but the French striker was yet to practice with his teammates this week.
Madrid will also be without left backs Ferland Mendy, who is injured, and Marcelo, who is suspended.
Madrid and Athletic square off for the fourth time in two months. Madrid defeated Athletic in the final of the Spanish Super Cup last month in Saudi Arabia, and it also defeated the Basque Country rival twice in Spanish league matches in December.
Athletic got past Barcelona in the round of 16 and was runner-up to the Catalan club in last year’s Copa final. It lost the previous final to Basque Country rival Real Sociedad. Its last title in the competition came in 1984.
Mallorca was a surprise Copa champion in 2003 and also reached the semifinals in 2009. Rayo is playing in the last eight for the first time since 2002. Betis was a semifinalist in 2018-19, losing to eventual champion Valencia.
The quarterfinals are played in single-elimination games.
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