Messi-inspired Barcelona give Guardiola perfect send off
Barcelona outclassed Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the Copa del Rey final to impressively round off the season, and Pep Guardiola’s four years in charge.
The Catalans began irresistibly - with Pedro Rodríguez netting within three minutes, Lionel Messi soon rifling in the second, and Pedro killing the game before the half-hour.
Guardiola had started youngster Martin Montoya at right-back, and left Cesc Fabregas on the bench. Bielsa’s line-up was more surprising, with Javi Martinez in midfield as Ander Herrera and Ander Iturraspe missed out with flu.
There were worries pre-game over the Estadio Vicente Calderon pitch, relaid after a Coldplay concert last weekend, but Barca were not hampered in a lightning start. Messi flashed a range-finder just wide within just 28 seconds, and Pedro had a goal-bound shot blocked inside two minutes.
From the subsequent corner Gerard Pique and Martinez rose and the ball fell to the winger, who swept in the opener first time from 10 yards. The Catalans looked re-energised after their two-week rest, Messi especially.
Basque defender Borja Ekiza blocked well after more rapid ping-pong passing, and his keeper Gorka Iraizoz superbly saved from Messi's shot from outside the area.
The Argentine genius was not to be denied though, perfectly controlling a rapier pass from Andres Iniesta before firing a powerful drive to the roof of the net for Barca’s second and his 73rd goal of the season.
Barca were humming with Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez on song and it was 3-0 after just 24 minutes. Pique’s quickly-taken free kick was knocked back by Xavi for Pedro to arc the ball low to net from 20 yards. The attacker’s double was well timed as he nervously awaits the naming of Spain’s Euro 2012 squad tomorrow.
Athletic must have known the game was over, but with the majority of support inside the Calderón they rallied. Fernando Llorente looked to be pulled down by Piqué but referee Fernández Borbalán said no while Barca’s Copa keeper Jose Pinto then showed good reflexes when Iker Muniain’s deflected cross almost sneaked in.
Bielsa brought on Herrera and Inigo Pérez at half-time and the former made a real difference. His slide-rule pass soon sent Ibai Gomez clear but the burly attacker’s chip drifted off target.
As the game opened up Montoya got forward at the other end and crossed for Alexis Sanchez to head just wide, while at the other end Athletic’s Llorente had another headed chance but miscued from close range.
Pedro seemed on for his hat-trick but Sanchez pass was poor and defender Fernando Amorebieta got back to block. Messi then almost marked his coach’s departure with yet another wonder goal, racing past four defenders, but Iraizoz blocked with his feet.