MADRID, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- Real Sociedad qualified for the semi-finals of the Spanish Copa del Rey knockout competition without having to kick a ball on Thursday night after the players of their rivals, Racing Santander fulfilled their promise of refusing to play in protest at the club' s board of directors.
Real Sociedad had won the first leg 3-1 and will be awarded a 3-0 triumph for the return leg at the end of a day in which there was intense speculation over whether or not the game would actually take place.
The Racing squad had threatened not to play unless the current board of directors resigned from their position as the club, now playing in the Segunda B (third category in Spain) reached a situation with overall debts of 50 million Euros, with the players not having been paid for over three months, coach Paco Fernandez for four months, and some club employees not receiving their wages for half a year.
The players had the full support of the club' s supporters and those present in the El Sardinero ground cheered at kick off as Real Sociedad set the ball rolling, while the home side remained motionless.
The Racing team then formed a circle on the pitch and when the referee asked them if they intended to play the game, they replied no and it was abandoned.
Speaking after the game Fernandez lamented that he and his players had reached a stage where they had felt they had no option other than to sacrifice what was the game of their lives.
"I want to thank my players for their courage. It was the most important match of our lives today and we changed it to maintain our dignity," he said, adding his thanks for the support.
"Without their support, it would have been a much more complicated decision to take," he said.
The decision could have repercussions: in theory Racing could now be banned from next year' s competition (although when Barcelona did the same in 2000 they were forgiven by the Spanish Football Federation). Meanwhile the players could face action from the Federation or the club for potential loss of revenue, although if the Federation decided to take such action they would undoubtedly face action from the players union the AFP.
"We will see what happens tomorrow, in principal we have to carry on, maybe we are not where we should be, but we have to return to normality as soon as possible in order to save the team," said Fernandez.
Real Sociedad meanwhile will now face FC Barcelona for a place in the final, while the other semi-final will see two Madrid derbies in the space of a week as Real Madrid face local rivals, Atletico Madrid.