COPA DEL REY FINAL
Barcelona crowned 2014-15 Copa del Rey champions
Luis Enrique's side carved out a deserved 3-1 victory over a determined Athletic in Camp Nou.
Messi decreed the double in Camp Nou by writing a new page in the history of football, leading an immense Barcelona side that squashed Athletic Bilbao with the same ease as they had done on previous occasions when the two sides had met in the Copa del Rey final. The script was the same as always. Athletic fans thronged the streets, there was a great atmosphere and the two sets of supporters in brotherly mood, but in the end a conclusive victory on the pitch for Barça, who once again gave the impression of not wishing to rub salt into the wounds of a completely beaten opponent.
Barcelona won 3-1 but they could have won by considerably more. They proved that life is cruel. Ernesto Valverde said in the run-up to the match that if one believes in miracles they can happen. In a Camp Nou awash with red-and-white hope it was proven that this theory is always mistaken when there is a 1.70-metre tall Argentinean called Leo Messi on the pitch. Football decides who scores the most goals. And that’s what matters, not who has the most fans in the stadium. And against Messi hordes of Athletic fans with banners and flags are no use. Neither are the sort of fouls that Messi suffered under the passive gaze of match referee Velasco Carballo. It’s not a good idea to make him angry. And Athletic paid for it dearly.
Valverde elected to deploy Mikel Balenziaga to man-mark Messi across the pitch, which ended up being the Basques’ undoing. Balenziaga carried out his task well, showing enthusiasm, big lungs and not roughing Messi up, but he made a mortal error: he annoyed the Argentinean. Messi was annoyed that he followed him everywhere, that he held on to him, that he protested offside decisions… in short, that he suffocated him. And after 20 minutes, after a more than dignified showing from Valverde’s men, Messi had had enough. Balenziaga grabbed the Argentinean’s shirt, took the ball off him and claimed a throw that wasn’t his. And the Messi took his revenge. And what revenge.
Picking up the ball in midfield, he challenged his marker and feigned twice. Once on the outside and once on the inside. He had made his point but spotted that there was more to his move than met the eye. Messi skipped through two Athletic defenders who came to Balenziaga’s aid, made a bee-line for the penalty area and then he knew he was on the verge of an historic strike. One more feint and he was open to shoot. Eymeric Laporte was closing in and Messi steadied himself, took aim and fired a shot low into the near post of Iago Herrerín. The final could have ended at that moment. Messi had decreed the double and with a genuine work of art.
It was a demoralizing goal for Athletic, a goal that demonstrated a superiority that had been sensed after a spirited start by Athletic, who had earlier been spared when the referee disallowed a Neymar strike for an offside that didn’t exist and because of the saves of the excellent Herrerín, who was splendid throughout. The Athletic keeper prevented a veritable rout.
After Neymar made it two Barcelona battered Athletic to the sound of utter silence from the home fans, who saw their dreams going up in smoke. Neymar, twice, Luis Suárez and Gerard Piqué could have put the game to bed but were thwarted by the colossal Herrerín. Barcelona’s superiority was total and the destiny of the final was already written.
Only a frivolity on the part of Jordi Alba allowed Iñaki Williams a sniff of goal, and provided the only fright for the Barcelona fans in the opening half. The young Athletic striker struck his volley onto the bar and Barcelona responded immediately with a goal worthy of any final: Ivan Rakitic, Messi and Suárez, in three touches, teed up Neymar to shoot into an empty net.
In the second half, Barcelona didn’t want to draw blood and put the game to sleep, controlling Athletic with ease. When the red-and-white defence were caught napping, Messi snuck in and stabbed home the third. His goal came after another foul by Balenziaga, who had held Messi’s shirt. It isn’t a good idea to wind up the Argentinean. Williams was rewarded for his fighting spirit shortly afterwards and the game might have passed by in a jovial atmosphere if Athletic could have found a way to channel his frustration.
Unfortunately, a sublime piece of skill from Neymar, who was halted with a foul, caused the home side to react like children and they shoved him on the floor under the nose of the referee. But it wasn’t more than a playground spat and the game ended much as was expected, with Barcelona fans singing and Athletic’s praying that the next time they reach the cup final they won’t have to face Leo Messi again.