Pep Guardiola first won the Copa del Rey in 2009, with a comfortable victory over Athletic Bilbao, and on Friday night he held that same trophy aloft having defeated the same team – a funny piece of football symmetry. Two goals from Pedro and another from Lionel Messi made it 14 honours in Guardiola’s short reign at Barcelona, and the 41-signed signed off in style with a 3-0 win. He now prepares to take a break from the game despite being linked with Chelsea and Liverpool. Whatever he decides to pursue, he leaves behind a lot of happy memories as the post-Guardiola era sadly begins.
A few weeks ago, it seemed probable Bilbao would fall short in each of their ambitions this season: Champions League qualification, Copa del Rey success and their first European trophy. So many have fallen for the beauty of their football and the tradition behind the club, and as a result, it’s been difficult to watch the Basque outfit falter as the season reached its climax. Their two finals yielded embarrassing 3-0 defeats, with the fatigue playing a crucial role. Marcelo Bielsa has revolutionised the club and drawn many plaudits, but a season which fully deserved to be capped with a trophy must sadly be one of progress and not triumph.
Dreadful organisation of the final meant that Spain’s preparation for Euro 2012 has been affected with the showpiece in Madrid. On Saturday, Spain play Serbia in a warm-up game ahead of the European championship but minus those involved with either Athletic or Barcelona. With an injury to a player a concern, it means that Spain have yet to fully select their final 23-man squad, but luckily everyone looked to come out of the final safely. Fernando Llorente was substituted in the second half but this could have been a tactic to help Bilbao gain a foothold in the game, even at that late stage. Players such as Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Víctor Valdés, Llorente, Javi Martínez, Cesc Fàbregas and Iker Muniain should now join up with the remainder of the squad and try to defend their trophy.
This is not a reference to the financial crisis but the war of words prior to the final at the Vicente Calderón. The Spanish FA organised the final so late that it overlapped with Spain’s Euro preparations, but that was only due to the disaster at the beginning of the season regarding player power and the resulting strike. This meant that the first round of fixtures were played at the end of the season instead which pushed the final back a week. Then there was the controversy about both supporters booing the national anthem because of Catalan and Basque pride – the anthem was altered slightly in the end. Constant bickering ensued between both the FA and the two teams. Not to even mention the fact that the game wasn’t played at the Santiago Bernabéu because of “toilet repairs” (even though pictures have shown this to be true) and not because Real Madrid didn’t want Barcelona celebrating on their turf!
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