El Centrocampista

Politics, Goodbyes and Booing the National Anthem – Spanish Football around the Web

AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza

The Copa del Rey produced some fantastic moments over the course of the season, highlighted by Espanyol’s late surge against Cordoba; Malaga’s choke job against Real Madrid; Mirandes’ stunning run to the semis, including an amazing comeback against Espanyol and the story of the banker/player, before losing to Athletic; and a tense el clasico quarter final that saw a sumptuous goal from Abidal and Madrid almost overturn Barcelona at the Camp Nou in the second leg.

Before the tournament got going, I looked at Pep’s record in the cup, which was quite formidable.  The Barça coach  was 15W 4D 3L going in to the 2011/12 edition and he went from strength to strength, winning six and drawing two, to put his record at 21W 6D and 3L.  The Final was his swansong with la Blaugrana as he will step aside to figure out his next challenge.

The Final this year matched the two most successful clubs in the competition—FCB with 25 trophies and Athletic with 23.  Barça were looking for a fitting send off for Pep while Bilbao aimed to salvage something from a season of eye catching football without the payoff: 10th in La Liga and Runners-Up in the Europa League.

Copa del Rey Final

After a month and a half of intense build up, fans and players had to wait three months before the final.  That seems odd.  Add to that the confusion over the date and the location, plus the fact that Euro 2012 preparations have already started, and you got a weird mix.  But the fans were epic, with lots of noise and flags and banners.  In that aspect, the final was a epic.

What a start for Barcelona.  Alves and Puyol were hurt and Abidal was recovering from surgery so their back line was patched together, but the front six were top choice and after it right from the beginning.  Messi almost scored in the opening 30 seconds and Pedro had a shot deflected 90 seconds later before converting the resulting corner kick scramble.

Despite the fast start, there was still some rust on la Blaugrana machine, especially from Sanchez, but Athletic were in quicksand.  Slow, plodding, Muniain not getting any touches; this was a different team than in either league game.  After 20 minutes, Barça doubled the trouble as Iniesta split open the defence and Messi blasted home from a sharp angle.  Then Pedro grabbed his second of the night minutes later when Xavi laid off for him to curl in with his left foot.  3-0 inside half an hour.

Los Leones immediately responded, forcing Pinto into a save and then it appeared as if Pique hauled down Llorente in the box.  If the second goal didn’t break Athletic then the third goal did as they were all over the place for the rest of the half.  The second half was mere formality for Barça as despite an improvement in their play, the result was beyond Los Leones.

Phil Ball’s final Soccernet column of the season set the political background (regional autonomy, booing the national anthem, a far right demonstration) for the Cup Final before moving on to the game itself, a match in which Athletic just could not match Pep’s squad in intensity and depth.

Sid Lowe commented on the completion of the Pep cycle—the fourteenth trophy he won was the same as his first.  And now the next chapter begins.

Chalk on the Boots provided a tactical analysis of the game for El Centrocampista.  He focused on the pressing of each team, the midfield battle (won by FCB), and another poor performance by Amorebieta.  The Blaugrana were fresh, sharp and hungry, which contributed to their domination and easy victory.

Finally, Kxevin of Barcelona Football Blog wrapped up the season and Pep’s time in charge basking in a glorious performance from a glorious team.  Players rested with no challenge around the corner were able to fully hit heights, especially in frantic opening half hour to win yet another cup for the club.

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