Barca give Guardiola perfect Cup send off

AFP, Saturday 26 May 2012

Pep Guardiola's term as coach of Barcelona ended on a high note when his side defeated Athletic Bilbao 3-0 to lift the Spanish Cup on Friday

Lionel Messi
FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi from Argentina, right, celebrates his goal during the final Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid (Photo: AP)


Barcelona gave coach Pep Guardiola the perfect send off, beating Athletic Bilbao 3-0 on Friday to win the Spanish Cup on the coach's last match in charge after a memorable four seasons in the Catalan hot seat.

Lionel Messi, with his 73rd of the season, and a Pedro Rodriguez double got the goals inside the first half an hour to finish off the Basque side and deliver Guardiola his 14th and final trophy at the club.

Guardiola leaves the side he played for with three Spanish leagues, two Champions Leagues, two FIFA World Club Cups, two UEFA Supercups, three Spanish Supercups and two Spanish Cup victories as coach.

The win was a repeat of Guardiola's first title in the 2008-09 final when the Catalans ran out 4-1 victors over Bilbao.

Guardiola has never lost to Athletic in his four seasons, winning ten out of 15 clashes between the two sides who boast the most Spanish Cup victories, Barca making it 26 with this win to Bilbao's 23 titles.

Guardiola, with Dani Alves and Carles Puyol injured, decided to start with a four man defence including the youngster Martin Montoya at right-back.

He also made the decision to give Pedro a final chance to play himself into the Spanish squad for Euro 2012 and the forward grabbed it with both feet.

Bilbao got an early warning of what to expect when Messi went straight into a mazy run from kick-off before shooting just wide.

Within three minutes of the start Barca were ahead.

When a leg from centre-half Amorebieta diverted a goal bound Pedro shot wide, the same player latched onto a loose ball to fire home from the resulting corner.

Athletic recovered from the shock and started to enjoy some possession but Barca continued to have their chances.

On 15 minutes Messi had a left footed curling shot tipped over the bar from Bilbao stopper Gorka Iraizoz and three minutes later Xavi Hernandez shot just high.

It was therefore no surprise when Messi doubled the lead on 21 minutes, the little Argentinian taking one touch to control a slide-rule pass from Andres Iniesta before slamming home from close range.

Four minutes later and Pedro made it three to end all doubts of where the cup would be heading.

Gerard Pique played a long searching pass to Xavi on the edge of the area who cleverly laid it back for the Tenerife-born player to side foot home his second.

Bilbao continued to battle and within a minute of conceding the third Markel Susaeta brought the first save at the other end from Jose Pinto, who has replaced Victor Valdes all season in goal for Barca in domestic cup games.

The Basques had further chances to reduce the margin.

On 28 minutes referee David Fernandez waved away what appeared to be a clear penalty after Pique had pulled down Fernando Llorente and Iker Muniain had a wide shot blocked at the near-post on the stroke of half-time.

Backed by their impressive fans who refused to be silenced by the scoreline, they continued to look for a way back in the second period.

Ibai Gomez, Inigo Perez and Jon Aurtenetxe all had chances but they failed to score in a final for the second time this season following their 3-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League.

At the other end Gorka denied Messi another goal after another scintillating run as Barca were content to run down the clock and saviour the occasion.

Guardiola continued to wring every ounce of effort out of his side from the sideline in the last moments of his glittering reign.

In contrast to Barca's trophy laden recent history it is 28 years since Athletic Bilbao last won a title.

After losing their second final by the same scoreline, their long suffering support left the stadium wondering when the next title will arrive.

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