Barcelona ensured a fitting finale for departing coach Pep Guardiola as they secured a 3-0 victory in the final of the Copa del Rey against Athletic Bilbao last night.
They are the two sides that have won the trophy more than any other, with the Catalans now three ahead of the Basque side.
In celebration of this game, GMF has decided to pick out five of the best ever finals in Spain’s only other club competition outside of La Liga.
As there were so many great finals, GMF felt it necessary to limit the search to the completion in recent times and the cup in it’s current guise of Copa del Rey.
Civil war in Spain and the rule under General Franco meant the cup has had a few different names in the past.
The bitter city rivals met for this game after a close league campaign had seen just two points separate the top three sides. A win for Real on the final day fo the La Liga season would have see them crowned champions, but two late goals in Tenerife meant Barcelona leap-frogged them into top spot before securing a first European Cup win.
Atletico had finished in third that year, just a point behind Real and were determined to ruin their rivals’ season, in their own stadium. It was effectively all over after half an hour when captain Paulo Futre put Atleti 2-0 up with a fine high finish from a tight angle. In the first ten minutes, however, former Real and Barca player, Bernd Schuster opened the scoring with a fantastic free-kick. The ageing Madrid side had stumbled through the end of the season and did not have anything left to stage a fight back.
Betis were experiencing one of the most successful periods in their history and had finished fourth in La Liga that season, only missing out on third because of their head-to-head record against Deportivo La Coruna. Barca meanwhile, had been chasing Real Madrid all season but could only finish second, two points behind the champions.
The final was an enthralling game and started well when Alfonso scored a bizarre opener in the 11th minute. Having broken the offside trap, he shot straight at Vitor Baia and the ball bounced back off the ‘keeper, back onto Alfonso and in. Barca shrugged off the shock and levelled just before half-time with a Luis Figo shot form 20 yards. Betis thought they had the winner when Finidi George finished coolly at the near post on 81 minutes, but Juan Pizzi headed an equaliser just four minutes later. It went to extra time and Figo had the last laugh when he bundled in the winner with just five minutes remaining.
Real Madrid were in the midst of their Galactico period, but it was not really going to plan and they would only manage to finish fourth in La Liga that season. Zaragoza ended the league in the bottom half and were underdogs in the extreme with the array I stars in Madrid’s side. It also took place just six days after the Madrid train bombings, so there was added impetus for Los Merengues to win something for the city.
It seemed to be going that way when David Beckham curled in a brilliant 30-yard free-kick in the 23rd minute, but plucky Zaragoza would not be shrugged off and Dani popped up at the back post to slam home the equaliser. Then the unthinkable happened a minute before half time and Guti gave away a penalty for a young David Villa to slot home.
However, the lead didn’t last long and Roberto Carlos arrowed a low 35-yard free-kick into the corner of the net. The game closed down after that and went into extra-time, Argentinean winger Luciano Galletti hit the winner from 25-yards out. It was an incredible upset.
Barcelona were on fire this year and were on their way to winning their first title under Pep Guardiola and would later be crowned Champions League winners after defeating Manchester United in Rome.
Bilbao were mid-table fodder but their pedigree in this competition is fantastic and they got off to a perfect start when Gaizka Toquero headed them in front after just eight minutes. It was playing into their hands until just after half an hour when Yaya Toure won the ball in midfield, strode towards the area and slammed it inside the near post from just outside the area.
Athletic were holding their own early in the second half, but Barca soon went up a gear and Lionel Messi (who else?) gave them the lead to spark a three goal, nine-minute flurry to take the game away from their opponents – Bojan and an exquisite Xavi free-kick doing the rest of the damage. Barcelona were at their magnificent best.
Last year’s final was an intriguing affair and was the third of five Classicos in a season that was hallmarked by the bruising encounters between the two sides. Barca were leading the way once more in La Liga and would eventually go on to win their third in a row.
Jose Mourinho had famously never beaten Barcelona as a manager and it looked like it may continue as Cristiano Ronaldo missed a number of good chances in the first half. Real’s tactics were obviously to try and intimidate the Catalan side and Guardiola’s men found it difficult to get going.
The stalemate continued and the game went into extra-time, where Ronaldo made amends by heading home the winner. It was Mourinho’s first time beating Barca, but it was not long lived as Blaugrana would once again win a league and Champions League double.
What do you think of the choices? Which other finals do you think you be in there, if at all?
Join in the debate and leave a comment below to let us know…
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