Barça reached this season’s Copa del Rey Final after finishing off Almeria with three more goals to add to the thirteen we had already scored against them this season. In the final which will be played on April 20, our opponent will probably be Real Madrid though as I write they are only one goal up on Sevilla with 35 minutes left to play. If we do meet Madrid in the final it will be the first between the teams since 1990 when goals from Guillermo Amor and Julio Salinas won it for Barça on a day that saw a switch in the hegemony in Spanish football away from Madrid’s Quinta del Buitre, that won five consecutive Ligas, towards Barça’s Dream Team which dominated the early 1990s.
Guardiola rested all his stars tonight with only Busquets and Alves from our theoretical best XI appearing in the starting line-up. Busquets was tested again at centre back where he performed well for 45 minutes before Piqué came on for the second half. The first phase of the game was pretty dull, Nolito on the left and Bojan on the right tried to penetrate the area but we were generally content to control possession without there being much action at either end. The game began to wake up a bit after Almeria created their first chance on 27 minutes, Uche played the ball onto Feghouli on ther right but Feghouli’s shot hit the outside of the post while Uche was furious at not receiving the return pass. Barça responded a couple of minutes later when Nolito won the ball near the half way line giving Afellay the chance for a run a a shot that forced Estaban into a diving save.
We were not looking the same without Messi, Xavi and Iniesta but just past the half hour we took the lead. Nolito played the ball inside to Adriano 35 metres out on the left, Adriano went past one challenge and held off another before slipping the ball under Estaban and in off the far post. Almeria had a couple of half chances before half time, the best after a scramble following a corner that ended with an Almeria player slicing the ball wide. With a six-goal advantage the second half was bound to be a stroll. Guardiola took off Busquets who had picked up an undeserved yellow card in the first half to make sure he won’t miss the final. We got a chance to see some more runs from Afellay who looked better in the second half on the right than he did in his “false-nine” role in the first 45 minutes. Alves demonstrated that he is completely over his injury with another tireless performance at right back. In the 56th minute he was forward again to receive Thiago’s pass and he sent in a delightful centre for thiago to run in and send a splendid header past Estaban. I was glad Thiago got the goal because he was a bit quiet in the first half, and he did indeed improve after getting on the scoresheet. Another player who deserves credit for a very good second half is Keita. He sent Bojan on a run through with a quick header, and then in the 66th minute he was forward robbing the ball and setting up Afellay to stride into the area and fire low past Estaban for his first Barça goal.
With a boost to his confidence Afellay went on a gallop forward on the right, leaping over one challenge before breaking into the area and sending a shot inches wide of the far post with the outside of his right foot. Almeria were now well beaten and we might have got another but Bojan who continues to be a long way from his best, squandered a couple of good chances.
There is plenty to celebrate tonight. Of course the night lacked the emotion you would normally hope to get from a cup semi-final, but a final is a final and we should appreciate each one we get to play. The fact that after more than two years in charge Guardiola still has an enormous ambition to win everything is extremely important to this team, many could say “it’s only the Copa del Rey, we’ve won that before, let’s concentrate on the Liga and Champions League”, but not Pep Guardiola, he wants it all, and it is his strong desire that often means he very often ends up getting it. Dare I say it, another triple, anyone?
Barça: Pinto 7; Alves 8, Busquets 7, Milito 6, Adriano 7; Thiago 6.5, Mascherano 7, Keita 7.5; Afellay 7, Bojan 5.5, Nolito 6.5.
Goals: m32 Adriano 0-1, m56 Thiago 0-2, m66 Afellay 0-3
Barça yellow card: m30 Busquets