El Centrocampista

Five things that make the 2012 Copa Final worth watching


Two of La Liga’s most exciting footballing teams will meet at the Estadio Vicente Calderon on Friday evening to contest the final of the 108th Copa del Rey.

Athletic Club de Bilbao against Futbol Club Barcelona. The master tactician Marcelo Bielsa, against his young protege Pep Guardiola. Basque against Catalan. It promises to be a mouth-watering game and one which neutral fans will hope can match the encounter at San Mamés on 6 November last year when the two sides played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in the pouring rain of the Basque Country.

The match offers Guardiola his last chance of silverware before standing down as the most decorated coach in club history, while for Athletic, victory would be just reward for a season where they have blazed a trail across the continent.

Here, our Athletic correspondent Michael Moschetto examines five areas which make the 2012 Copa del Rey Final one of the most intriguing for many a year.

Two Tactical Minds

In case you have been living under a rock in recent months, Pep Guardiola will leave Barcelona after this game. Therefore, the final will be an opportunity to add one last trophy to the astonishing 14 he has already led the side to during his four-year tenure at the Camp Nou.

However the 41-year old Catalan will be up against one of the most tactically adept coaches currently in the game. Athletic’s 56-year old Argentine maverick, Marcelo Bielsa has also been Guardiola’s mentor and it is fitting the Barça coach faces his teacher in his final game.

Bielsa is sure to prove a worthy adversary for the Barcelona coach and Athletic are one of the few teams in world football that can play the game with as much beauty and intensity as Guardiola’s side.

A Country Divided

For those unfamiliar with Spain and its politics, this matchup brings out two of the country’s most-recognised autonomous regions; Catalonia and the Basque Country. Both regions have sought independence throughout history and were heavily repressed during the Franco dictatorship. The Spanish Royal Anthem that is played before the Copa del Rey final has been booed by fans of both the Basque and Catalan clubs in the past as a means of demonstration.

In the 2009 final, when Barcelona defeated Athletic, fans turned their backs to the field and Spanish flag when the anthem was played. Even almost 40 years after Francisco Franco’s death, many in these autonomous regions are still fighting for independence.

Cup Prestige

Barcelona and Athletic are first and second on the list of all-time cup winners, with 25 and 23 triumphs respectively – for those wondering, Real Madrid have won the tournament on 18 occasions. Although the boys of Bilbao have not won a trophy in 20 years, this fixture still represents a classic matchup between two true giants of the Spanish game.

Athletic, Barça and Real Madrid are the only three clubs to have never been relegated from the Primera Division, a true indicator of the Basque club’s historical magnitude.

Goals Galore

The Copa del Rey has been incredibly prolific this season, netting a total of 317 goals in all games of the competition – an impressive ratio of 2.96 goals-per-match. With two of La Liga’s most attacking sides meeting in the final, the game is sure to provide plenty of goal mouth action.

The Athletic side features players such as Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain and Markel Susaeta; all of who have been in fantastic form this season, while Barcelona possess some of the greatest forwards in world football today of course.

Lionel Messi has again been in phenomenal form this year, while Alexis Sanchez has also settled in well since his arrival from Udinese last summer. Barça also possess exciting youngsters such as Cristian Tello and Isaac Cuenca – offering Guardiola boundless opportunities up front.

Matchups and Intangibles

Athletic are clearly the underdog in this encounter; in order to win the match, many experts beleive they must use their wide players to good effect. Muniain and Susaeta must navigate the flanks against Barcelona’s backup fullbacks (Montoya and Adriano are expectd to start at right and left-back respectively) and pin them back so they can not advance when Barça go on the offensive.

Perhaps the most important defensive matchup for Athletic however, will be that of 20-year old left back Jon Aurtenetxe who will face Lionel Messi. Los Leones will surely need the young defender to be at his best in order to contain the mercurial Argentine.

This match should be electrifying and presents a smattering of different battles for the aficionado to examine. Barcelona are favourites, as they were in 2009, but with Bielsa at the helm, you never quite know which Athletic Club you will get.

Athletic club can beat anybody on their day and can also do it in style, you only need to ask fans of Manchester United as proof to that.

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