Barça beat Athletic Club 3-1 at Camp Nou tonight to win the Copa del Rey. It’s Barça 27th Spanish Cup, completing a league and cup double and setting up a possible treble if Barça can beat Juventus in Berlin next Saturday. Xavi Hernández played his last ever game at Camp Nou and it could well be Dani Alves’s final appearance at the stadium but the night will be remembered more than anything for Leo Messi’s stunning solo goal that set Barça on the road to victory.
Messi’s jaw-dropping opener will be remembered right up there with his very best individual efforts, Getafe in 2007, Zaragoza in 2010 or the golazo at the Bernabeu in the Champions League in 2011. Twenty minutes into the game he received the ball on the right touchline just inside the Athletic half. Faced with Mikel Balenziaga who man-marked him all night, Messi shimmied to go inside before sprinting off the other way down the touchline. Perhaps Messi was fired up after losing out to Balenziaga four minutes earlier as this time he appeared to be on a mission to prove something. Mikel Rico and Beñat came across to cover so Messi stopped his run and now with three players closing him down he magically slipped the ball through an impossible gap and set off like an escaped hare towards the area. Rico couldn’t catch him, Beñat and Balenziaga gave up the chase, and when Laporte came across Messi cut inside the defender before unleashing a low shot that beat Herrerin inside the near post. Pure pure genius! How many people fell off their seats watching that?
It was a fitting goal for a splendid occasion. Athletic fans flooded in from Bilbao in an attempt to ovetake the ground and they succeeded in filling two-thirds of the stadium, but Barça’s fans responded well to the challenge and were often heard which created a magnificent atmosphere for the game. As expected the two sets of fans united before the kick-off to drown out the Spanish national anthem. The authorities in the directors’ box looked embarrassed and no doubt there will be a stupid fine and doubts cast over future finals at Camp Nou.
The game began with Athletic showing great intensity to try and unsettle Barça. Aduriz showed the Basques’ aggressive game by catching Rakitic early on with his elbow and their high press almost saw Williams chase down Ter Stegen after Alves’s pass to the keeper. However, even before Messi’s goal Barça had put the ball in the net only for Neymar to be incorrectly ruled offside.
Barça were already getting on top when Messi produced his masterpiece but after the goal the blaugrana played some superb stuff in search of a second. Herrerin needed to make a brave save, diving to block Neymar’s effort after Suarez’s cross, and the keeper made another good stop, tipping over Piqué’s stretching volley. Neymar brilliantly controlled Alves’s chip into the area only to fire his shot into the side-netting, and not long after the Brazilian forward tried to emulate Messi with a sensational run into the area but he failed to find a finish.
Neymar wouldn’t have long to wait for his goal though as Barça’s pressure paid off in the 37th minute. Rather than an individual effort this was a great team goal with rapid one-touch passes opening the space. Alves, Rakitic and Messi pinged the ball between themselves on the right and when Messi tried to slip a pass through, a defender got his foot to the ball, but Rakitic was following up and he played a one-two with Messi and then sent a quick ball into the area for Suárez’s intelligent run and the Uruguayan squared first time to set up Neymar with an open goal. Quick and slick. Or pim-pam-pum as they say in Spain. Two-nil to Barça and well deserved.
Perhaps the first sign of complacency came after the second goal when Alba was caught in possession by Iraola who crossed into the area and Williams’s volley clipped the top of the crossbar. However, Barça finished the half well with Messi’s free-kick forcing another good save from Herrerin.
Athletic maintained their intensity in the second half while Barça looked happy to control the game through possession. Alves was brave to stick his head in to stop San Jose’s attempted volley but there was little threat on Ter Stegen’s goal with only an easy header from Iraola requiring a save. At the other end Herrerin needed to react quickly to prevent Rakitic’s cross being deflected in by Laporte.
Xavi came on for Iniesta who picked up a slight calf injury while Susaeta replaced Iraola, but little changed with Barça continuing to dominate possession. Alves impressed in what could be his final appearance at Camp Nou. He may have sported a silly haircut for the occasion but he demonstrated he is still in excellent physical condition with his tireless running on the right. He was also crucial in his part in Barça’s third goal, another great team goal involving numerous passes in the build-up and completed after Alves exchanged passes with Neymar to get in behind the defence to send a low cross to the near post where Messi was quicker than Bustinza and Balenziaga to steer the ball inside the post.
Both coaches made used their final two substitutes after the goal with Ibai and Iturraspe coming on for the Basques and Mathieu and Pedro replacing Alba and Suárez for Barça. Almost immediately Athletic pulled a goal back when Williams outjumped Busquets to glance a header in from Ibai’s cross and there were a few nerves when Ibai fired in a couple of shots both in the 83rd minute.
A second Athletic goal at the point would certainly have set up a nail-biting finish but Ter Stegen was not troubled again. Barça were back in control at the end and Neymar took the chance to show one of his party tricks which unfortunately upset some of Athletic’s players who took offense at the Brazilian’s flamboyance. At the end Xavi invited Iniesta to go up and receive the cup with him. A cup well won after nine wins in nine games in this season’s tournament. A splendid end to the season in Spain. Now just the Champions League remains with Juventus in Berlin next Saturday.
Athletic: Herrerín; Bustinza, Etxeita, Laporte, Balenziaga; San José, Beñat (Iturraspe m75); Iraola (Susaeta m58), Mikel Rico (Ibai m75), Williams; Aduriz.
Barça: Ter Stegen 7; Alves 8, Piqué 7.5, Mascherano 7, Alba 6.5 (Mathieu m77, 6); Rakitic 8, Busquets 7, Iniesta 6 (Xavi m56, 7); Messi 10, Suárez 7.5 (Pedro m78, 6.5), Neymar 8.
Goals: m20 Messi 0-1, m37 Neymar 0-2, m74 Messi 0-3, m80 Williams 1-3
Yellow cards: m42 Piqué, m43 Iraola, m58 Balenziaga, m67 Williams, m88 Aduriz, m88 Neymar, m90 Busquets