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Two down, one to go. FC Barcelona confidently disposed of Athletic Bilbao 3-1 in Saturday’s Spanish Cup Final at the Camp Nou and can claim a historic treble if they can repeat the trick against Juventus in Berlin next week. Messi scored the second and third, with Neymar getting the one in between, and Williams’ late header was little more than some consolation for Athletic’s swatches of travelling supporters.
The best gets better
indeed, with more Athletic than Barça fans in the stadium it was an unfamiliar atmosphere that greeted the ‘home’ team in a game that got off to a frenetic start. Both sides chased an early goal, and Barça actually got one after nine minutes when Neymar converted a peach of an assist from Messi, but the linesman’s flag questionably went up for offside.
The game soon developed into the expected battle between Barça’s skill and possession football against physical grit from the Basques, but the balance was tipped after 20 minutes when Leo Messi produced one of the finest pieces of magic of his already glittering career. Breaking down the right wing, he weaved his way past four defenders and stroked the ball into the bottom right corner of Herrerín’s goal. Simply awesome.
The goal knocked the wind out of Athletic, and Barça could have extended their lead when Luis Suárez picked out an unmarked Neymar, but Herrerín got a brilliant hand to the ball, and then did the same in a one-on-one with Piqué just moments later. Athletic were being totally outclassed and after 36 minutes were further punished when Barça scored again. Messi set up Luis Suárez with a fine chance to shoot, but Neymar was even better placed and the Uruguayan generously laid him up. The Brazilian only had to tap the ball home and Barça were 2-0 up and cruising it. Athletic did come close when Williams hit the bar, but they could have been three down at the break had Herrerín not produced further excellence by saving a Messi free kick in the final minute.
The chances eased off after the break, with the first major reaction from the crowd coming when Xavi replaced the injured Iniesta and donned the captain’s armband for what will now for certain be the last ever time for Barça at the Camp Nou. The best chances had fallen to Suárez and Neymar, but other than that there was little to talk about until things sprung back into life after 73 minutes. That was when a one-two between Neymar and Dani Alves led to Messi breaking into space and thumping the ball home to as good as settle Barça’s 27th cup title.
With eleven minutes to go, Williams got his head on the end of a cross from the left to pull one back for Athletic. Far from seeing it as a consolation goal, the Basques treated it as a lifeline and started piling on the pressure in search of a miracle. But as tempers started firing the game drew to a stop-start close with the Barça side of the stadium already celebrating a spectacular win. More to come next Saturday!
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