Posts Tagged ‘ Copa del Rey ’

FC Barcelona Home 2007/08

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In retrospect, the 2007/08 season was the transition from one era to another. Moving on from the European Double in 2006, the Blaugrana phased out old soldiers (van Bronckhorst, Giuly, Belletti and Thiago Motta) and brought in key players for the upcoming cycle of success (Henry, Yaya Toure, Abidal, Milito, and Pinto).

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After losing out to Real Madrid for the La Liga title the previous season on head to head results, Barca started the campaign strongly but too many draws and only four away wins saw the Blaugrana finish third behind Real Madrid and Villarreal. Glory was not to be found in the Copa del Ray either, as Valencia knocked FC Barcelona out in the Semis with a 4-2 aggregate win.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 29: Thierry Henry (R) of Barcelona controls the ball next to Pele of Inter Milan during the Gamper Trophy match between Barcelona and Inter Milan at the Nou Camp Stadium on August 29, 2007 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Thierry Henry;Pele

In Europe, Barca had a comfortable Group Stage and then faced Celtic in the Round of 16. A 3-2 win at Celtic Park saw them progress to the Quarters, where the Blaugrana secured a pair of 1-0 victories over Schalke. The result was a Semi-Final match up against Manchester United, resulting in a tense pair of matches, with Scholes’ worldy at Old Trafford being the difference for the eventual champs.

Trophyless, everything would change that summer as Pep Guardiola was named manager ahead of the 2008/09 season.

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(image courtesy of Colours of Football)

The home jersey for the 2007/08 campaign was straightforward, with thick blue and red vertical bands, very reminiscent of the shirt used in the 1980’s except without the collar. Together with blue shorts and hooped socks, this made for a stylish, traditional FCB kit. This was the second season of the club’s association with UNICEF, with the charity across the front of the shirt and a contribution made from the club.

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(image courtesy of FC Barcelona)

The highlight of the shirt was a circle of text noting the 50th anniversary of the Camp Nou. Opened in 1957 after three years of construction, it is the largest venue in Europe and has hosted games for the 1982 World Cup and 1992 Olympics and several European Cup Finals, including that magical night in 1999. (For more info on the venue, check out Chris Clements’ post at Estadios de Espana.)

I really like this shirt but rarely wear it. Partly because I don’t want to ruin it and partly because I don’t follow Barca as faithfully anymore. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Read the rest of my Strip Club posts here and follow me on twitter @austinlong1974.

Strip Club–Half and Half Edition (Long Version)

In the summer of 1997, Dutchman Louis van Gaal took over at FC Barcelona from Bobby Robson, with the team coming off a relatively successful season—second in the league, Copa del Rey winners and Cup Winners’ Cup winners.  In the off season Ronaldo had moved to Inter after one amazing campaign with the Blaugrana, but not to worry as the lineup was chock full of stars, including Vítor Baía, Ferrer, Fernández, Guardiola, Couto, Óscar García, Luís Figo, Hristo Stoichkov, Sonny Anderson, Giovanni, Rivaldo, Sergi Barjuán, Guillermo Amor, Pizzi, Nadal, Luis Enrique, Reiziger, and Iván de la Peña.

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After falling to Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup at the beginning of the season, this assembly of talent went on to win the Spanish Double.  The team got off to a fast start and led the league nearly the entire season, eventually securing the title by nine points over Athletic Bilbao, who had a made a late surge up the table.  Watching the league goals from that season, Luis Enrique was a machine, it was a reminder of how good Rivaldo was, and there were some fantastic goals against Real Madrid.  One other thing I noticed. . . either FCB wore their home kit almost every match or they could only score in the home strip.

rivaldo

In the Spanish Cup, FCB joined the competition in the Round of 16 and hammered Valencia, Merida and Real Zaragoza on their way to the Final, where they met Real Mallorca in Valencia.  An early goal from Mallorca had Barca on the ropes but Rivaldo, the tournament’s leading scorer, equalized midway through the second half.  Despite Mallorca having two men sent off before extra time started, FCB could not find a winner, having to win on penalties, with each team sending eight kickers to the spot.

In Europe the Blaugrana beat Borussia Dortmund to win the UEFA Super Cup but failed to progress in the Champions League.  Latvian champions Skonto were their opponents in the second qualifying round, and after a tough match at the Nou Camp, a 3-2 win, FCB travelled away and won 1-0 to move on to a group that included Newcastle United, PSV and Dynamo Kyiv.  Barca finished dead last in their group and were hammered 7-0 over two games with Kyiv.  I vaguely remember watching Tino Asprilla’s performance against the Spanish team at St. James Park in which he scored a hat trick (and even found the ESPN highlights with JP and Tommy Smyth).  Watching the highlights again, I was stunned by how Keith Gillespie tortured Sergi on the Newcastle left.

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This was one of the first jerseys I ever bought.  I can’t even remember if I ordered it from a catalog or found it at a store.  This was the last Kappa strip (who took over for the 1992/93 season) before the switch to Nike, and the Kappa color scheme tended to be more royal blue and bright red rather than the historic blue and claret.  One item I came upon in my research was that during the formation of the club, half the shirt was blue and the other claret, the sleeves were opposite colours and the shorts were white. One of the many theories explaining the origin of the kit colours — blue and scarlet — is that Gamper used the same colours as the Basel team, where he had played before coming to Catalonia. (Courtesey of FC Barcelona).  That season the club also had a European strip, which was an altered version of the home strip.

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The ring collar was a major design change after over 15 years of a standard collar, and the shirt also featured typical Kappa design features for FCB shirts, which included sublimated Barca and Kappa logos throughout the shirt and the Kappa logo down the sleeves.  The shirt is light but the collar is a little itchy so I always have to wear some sort of undershirt.  Blue shorts with the Kappa logo down the sides and blue and red hooped socks complete the strip.

FCB 97 98 strip

Of all of my FCB shirts, this is my least favorite although I like them all.  Nice piece of history though.

MatchDay Memory: Luis Suarez Then and Now Part I (Luis Suarez Miramontes)

Imagine a time in the distant future when a player named Luis Enrique joins FC Barcelona or a new Hughes is signed by Manchester United.  That player will inevitably be compared to their predecessor, with the shadow of former glory always hovering around the player.  For Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz, who joined FC Barcelona in the summer of 2014, not only was he not the first Luis Suarez to have played for the Blaugrana, but he will probably not be as successful in terms of trophies as his predecessor.  On top of this, he also comes with his own unique baggage.

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I had heard of FCB legends like Samitier and Kubala and Cruyff and Maradona but knew almost nothing about the original Luis Suarez.  In researching Luis Suarez Miramontes (referred to as Lusito), I was stunned to learn of his accomplishments.  He started at Deportivo La Coruna before moving to FC Barcelona in 1955.  The squad had all the elements to prosper, with talented players like Kubala, Kocsis, Czibor, Evaristo, and Ramallets, and the arrival of manager Helenio Herrera created a cycle of success for the Blaugrana.  While the legendary Real Madrid of the 1950’s was winning five European Cups in a row, FC Barcelona found domestic success winning the 1957 Copa del Rey (then called the Generalissimo Cup) and back to back league titles in 1959 (Domestic Double) and 1960.  At the same time, the club found success on the continent, winning the Fairs Cup in 1958 and 1960.  Victory in the league allowed for entry into the European Cup, and in the 1960 edition, Barca lost to the mighty Real Madrid in the Semis.  But the Blaugrana eliminated their eternal rival in the first round of the 1961 competition before losing to Benfica in the Final.

Luisito-fcb

After the disappointment of the European Cup Final, Lusito was sold for a record transfer fee at the time to Inter, where he was reunited with Herrera and helped to create La Grande Inter.  At the new club, Il Mago changed Suarez’s role from goal scoring forward to deep-lying midfielder, and the Nerazzurri emerged from the shadow of their city rivals, winning three league titles, two European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups in an astonishing period from 1962-1966.  Suarez left Inter in 1970 and finished his career at Sampdoria, retiring in 1973.

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On the International front, Suarez appeared for Spain at the 1962 and 1966 World Cups, but La Roja did not progress out of the group in either competition. However La Selección won the 1964 European Championship on home soil, with Luisito a key component.  After defeating Hungary in the Semis, Spain faced off against the Soviet Union in the Final.  Kishen Patel summarized Lusito’s impact on the match:

Spain faced previous winners USSR in the final and once again Luis Suarez didn’t disappoint with his performance. A wise head among young players, Suarez was the eldest member of the Spanish squad. A sublime pass from Luisito found Jose Maria Pereda whose skillful finish left the “Black Spider” Yashin helpless. Spain were in the lead in the 6th minute in front of 100,000 spectators at the Bernabeu with General Francisco Franco among them. However, the Russian side equalised within two minutes of conceding and it took some heroics from Spanish goalkeeper Jose Angel Iribar to keep the scores level. Luis Suarez’s calming presence made the difference when he spread the play to the right and the ball was crossed in from there to find Marcelino Martinez who beat Yashin for the second time in the game with a headed effort. Spain clinched their first European Nation’s Cup on their home soil. Luis Suarez Miramontes’ ability to dictate play and orchestrate attacks highlighted him as the mastermind behind Spain’s victory.

Luisito-spain

In addition to his medals for club and country, Suarez won the 1960 Ballon d’Or, putting him in the pantheon of the great players in the 50’s and 60’s.  Gemma Simolo wrote for Inside Spanish Football that Suárez had exquisite technique, possessed extraordinary footwork, unrivalled when it came to his inch-perfect passing, thrived with creativity, and scored impressive goals.

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A profile of the current Luis Suarez and a comparison of the two players will follow later this week.

Strip Club–Mileage Edition

The summer of 2003 saw the dawn of a new era for the Blaugrana, with a new president and a new coach.  Laporta and Rijkaard came on to the scene and laid the foundation for future success that continues today.  I was fortunate to get a glimpse of the new team when they played Manchester United in Philly that summer as part of their pre-season tour.  Unfortunately the squad was wearing the khaki kit, one of Nike’s many away strip misfires over the years.

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In researching this season in particular, I was struck by the transfer dealings.  Ronaldinho, Davids, Marquez and van Brockhourst were brought in while Iniesta, Valdes and Oleguer were all promoted. With the exception of Davids, these players were key to the back to back league wins the following two years and the 2006 Champions League Final triumph.  And look at the players that left the club that year: Frank de Boer, Geovanni, Fabregas and Riquelme, plus one my favorite player names—Trashorras. The Dutchman tailed off but the other three had decent runs in new destinations.

Rijkaard’s first season in charge ended without a trophy.  (Read Graham Hunter’s excellent book Barca: The Making of the Worlds’ Greatest Team about the difficulties the Dutch coach faced early in his tenure.)  Valencia won their second title in four years, with Barca finishing five points behind, but this was an improvement on their sixth place the year before.  Because of that finish, FCB played in the UEFA Cup instead of the Champions League.  A heroic effort by Celtic goalkeeper Marshall and a solitary goal by Thompson saw the Hoops move on to the quarter-finals.  Success was not found in the Copa either, as Real Zaragoza scored late in the second leg to advance to the semis with a 2-1 aggregate win.

The home jersey for this season was a variation on the centenary jersey, using the navy blue shoulders with blaugrana stripes across the chest.

2003-2004 fc barcelona home

The shorts for the strip were more of a royal blue instead of the navy blue used four years earlier.  Finally the socks featured the blaugrana stripes.

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The jersey, which is relatively light, is a little too big for my liking.  A shame because I really like it, but eBay provided me a pretty decent knock off for super cheap.  This jersey was the end of a spring buying spree which saw me buy the Real Madrid Home and Away jerseys from that season and the Holland Euro 2004 Home and Away jerseys.  My son had just been born and I realized that I needed to be a little more responsible with my purchases.

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Special thanks for to Colours of Football for the graphics.

MatchDay Memory–The Big Two Part 2 (Memories and Tactics)

As for my personal involvement in the rivalry, the first El Clasico I can remember is the game after Figo switched sides in the summer of 2000.  I had loved him at FCB and was sad to see him go over to the Evil Empire.  I definitely didn’t have the hatred that the Nou Camp supporters showed when he returned to the Nou Camp, and I vaguely remember the famous Pig’s Head game that followed.  Tom Adams looked back at those days for Soccernet.

I have to admit that Clasico viewings between those games and the Pep Era were hit and miss.  Once I heard that Ronaldinho was actually cheered by the Real Madrid fans, I had to find highlights, during which I saw an amazing performance by Ronny, in a season that ended with the League and European Cup double.  Then in March 2007, I read the match report about the 3-3 draw and found snippets of the game, including a sick hat trick from Messi, but it wasn’t enough to keep Beckham and Real Madrid from winning the title that season.

I haven’t missed a League Clasico since Pep took over.  Some of the matches have been duds (December 2008 and November 2009) in which Real Madrid used an overly physical approach to nullify a Barcelona team in the ascendancy, while others have been Blaugrana Epics (May 2009 and the manita of November 2010).  Of course there was the Clasico Apocalypse of 2011, which saw the rivals play four times in 20 days.  I watched both legs of the Champions League semi and the league encounter but missed most of the Copa del Rey final (stupid work), although I did see CR7’s winning goal.  The Spanish Super Cups have been hard to schedule as they come during a ginormous work function, but in all in all, the games recently have been amazing on every level—drama, tactics, and technical ability.

Speaking of tactics, there have been several developments for both clubs during the recent years.  With Pep’s hire, the Blaugrana maintained the 4-3-3, which is part of the club’s DNA, but the former Barca captain added a level of pressing and increased fitness.  Possession became a means to defend, as opponents rarely saw the ball and were under constant pressure, eventually breaking under constant bombardment.  Width from outside backs allowed attackers to come inside and combine in intricately, leading to amazing goals of skill and precision.  Now that almost every opponent parks the bus, the team is confronted with their next progression.

Messi was slowly moved from his right hand berth to a more central role, starting as false 9, which caused backlines all sorts of problems.  Do you follow Messi into midfield?  Do you focus on him and allow Pedro and Villa to drive at you from the wings?  These days Messi has moved to almost a false 10 position with Fabregas stretching the play and Messi able to pull the strings and occasionally dribble at defenses.  Kxevin at the Barcelona Football Blog commented on this recent phenomenon.

Another player that evolved is Sergio Busquets.  Pep arrived and made the youth player the fulcrum of the team.  Yaya Toure and Seydou Keita have moved on as Busi has become vital to the success of the team. Andreas Vou looked at the evolution of Sergio Busquets for Inside Spanish Football.  Busquets has moved from the pivot to the third center back to the sweeper and back again, which has allowed the Blaugrana to constantly tweak the formation and approach.  Jonathan Wilson called him the 3 and a half after the first league Clasico of 11/12.

From a Real Madrid perspective, Los Blancos have progressed from an entertaining side that was open and scored lots of goals (but gave up plenty as well) to a pragmatic side that is a lethal counterattacking unit.  In the 2000’s the club made the mistake of selling Geremi and Makelele, players who snuffed out attacks, gave the ball to the creative players and shielded an aging backline.  The team was exposed time and time again and tried to outscore the opposition, which was effective to varying degrees.  After Capello squeezed a couple of titles out of a decent squad, the club floundered until Perez reinstituted the Galacticos policy, bringing CR7, Pepe, Ozil, Alonso, Benzema and a host of others.

These players were overmatched by the FCB machine and it took the arrival of Mourinho and a couple seasons of his discipline to pay dividends.  Now the squad defends as a unit, wins the ball and launches lighting swift counters with CR7, Di Maria, Ozil and Higuain or Benzema.  Angel Di Maria was signed to give balance to the attack and switched from right midfield, his position at Benfica, to left mid.  Occasionally he and CR7 switch but Di Maria’s cutting inside encourages interplay between the lone striker (Higuain or Benzema) and attacking midfielder (Ozil) and also allows Marcelo to overlap.  As for Ozil his transfer provided a more dynamic option to Kaka.  The German, who basically plays the same position for Germany, drifts side to side and pulls the strings. His teammates react by alternating positions, and opposing defenses are forced to make decisions against an attack full of dynamism and energy.

In the back Sergio Ramos has moved from right back to center back.  Carvalho was a Mourinho signing to help him build his power base but injuries and lack of form saw him slip out of the team.  Arbeloa has been serviceable on the right hand side, which has allowed for the emergence of a Pepe/Ramos pairing, full of speed and aggressiveness.  Frustration at FCB’s dominance led to several cards but both have been under control lately.  It is breathtaking to watch and their current shape took them to a league championship and within a whisker of the Champions League Final.

We now enter a period when the two teams are considered the best in the world and will lock horns home and abroad in the search for glory.  Plus several subplots give texture to the battle between the clubs.  How long for Mourinho?  He has never led a team beyond three seasons.  Along with that, can Mou lead Los Blancos to La Decima?  Can Tito keep this cycle going or will he be at the wheel as the Blaugrana fade once more before rebuilding?  Will we see a Real Madrid/FC Barcelona Champions League Final, setting up the greatest confrontation between two biggest sports clubs/franchises/teams in the world?  I can’t wait to see what this season and the near future holds.

MatchDay Memory–The Big Two Part 1 (History)

In my ongoing quest to learn more about La Liga, I spent some time before and after the last Clasico researching the two biggest teams in Spain.  This is not going to be a post on the battles between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid through the years or a dissection of the political and social ramifications of the matches, rather a summation of their accomplishments and trends and story lines and how I have interacted with these clashes.

Of the two clubs, I follow FC Barcelona (watch games, try to stay on top of transfer rumors, keep track of player news, follow club politics to a certain extent, etc.), but I don’t live and die with every result. Over time my fandom of all sports and teams has been tempered by a realization that these are just games and should have no influence on how I feel about myself, how I treat others or how it impacts my day.

So FCB’s eternal rivals are Real Madrid and logically I should hate Los Merengues, but I don’t.  What? I respect the club but don’t hate the club. I respect their heritage and talent and I’m not going to spit on them.  I really enjoyed Phil Ball’s book White Storm, which summarized the history of the club quite well.  Had I started following Real Madrid during the first Galactico era (Figo, Zidane, Becks, El Fenómeno, etc), the Evil Empire (a loving tribute) may have been my preferred Spanish team. Instead I started watching the Blaugrana during the days of Rivaldo, Figo, Luis Enrique, and the Dutch contingent, and loved to watch their brand of football.  I say all this to explain why I have the 2003/04 Real Madrid Home and Away kits in addition to all of the FCB jerseys in my collection.

I’m not a Spanish football historian, but in my reading and research—which is merely a hobby that takes time from other things I could and should be doing—it is clear that cycles exist between the two clubs, with one typically in the ascendency pushing the other to the fringes.  However, recently both teams are leading the way at home and on the continent as the two clubs push each other for honors and their place in sporting history. Always has been, always will be.

After World War II, Barca’s Golden Age from 1947/48 to 1959/60 was overshadowed by Real Madrid’s rise to domestic and European dominance.  The Blaugrana won six titles, had three second place finishes and won five Spanish Cups, but Los Blancos reigned supreme starting with the 1953/54 season.  During an amazing 16 year period, Real won twelve league titles, never finishing lower than third, and added six European Cups.

While the team from the capital ruled at home and abroad, FCB never fell out of the top six from 1960 until 1973 but failed to win the league, finishing second six times.  They did add three Spanish Cups to the trophy cabinet, yet the league title eluded them until the arrival of Johan Cruyff in the 73/74 season.  Another barren period in the league commenced, and the club only won the Primera once until 1990.  This was in 84/85 season, which came after an interval of Basque dominance.  There was success in the Spanish Cup (four titles), leading to three Cup Winners Cup wins.  Real Madrid started another cycle in the 1971/72 season, which saw them claim six titles in nine years, while adding three Spanish Cups, but success did not come on the European Stage this time.

Cruyff’s Dream Team of the early 90’s was preceded by Madrid’s La Quinta del Buitre, a squad that won five league titles in a row.  In addition Los Blancos won the 1985/86 UEFA Cup and one Copa del Rey and made the semi-finals of the European Cup three years running.  But it was the Blaugrana who would return Europe’s biggest prize to Spain, with a historic win at Wembley in 1992 before the cycle ended at the hands of Milan in the 1994 European Cup Final.

The rest of the 90’s saw Real take over briefly before a Barca team led by van Gaal reclaimed the throne, with Atleti’s double in 1996 breaking up the dominance.  The first decade of the new century saw the emergence of other clubs in the Primera—Depor and Valencia in particular—who temporarily broke up the stranglehold of the Big Two.  Barca faded in all competitions, not winning a trophy for five years. A transfer of presidency, lack of stability in the manager position, and the transition in the squad were contributing factors.  On the other hand, Real finally got their hands on the trophy with the big ears, winning it in 1998, 2000 and 2002, adding two league titles in the years they did not win in Europe.

Frank Rijkaard came on to the scene for FC Barcelona in 2003 and set the stage for Barca’s Second Golden Age.  (Tangent: I am working on an argument that FCB are currently in epoch that began in 1990.  Starting with Cruyff’s hire and first title, the club has been a dominant force but home and abroad, similar to the winning cycle of AC Milan from 1986 (purchase by Berlusconi) to the 2007 Champions League win.  I hope to put something together in the near future.) A league title win in 04/05 sent the Blaugrana on their way, winning the European Double the following season.  Capello was able to stop the run as the Barca players, led by an irresistible Ronaldinho on the field and a disco loving Ronny off it, lost the plot, eventually losing their grip on their titles and sending the Dutch coach packing.

Enter Pep Guardiola.  The former Dream Teamer oversaw a run of dominance that challenged the great teams of of FCB, Real Madrid and European football.  The Treble of 08/09, which led to the calendar year sextuple of 2009, two more league titles, and another European Final win in 2011. During his tenure, the Blaugrana participated in 19 competitions and won 14 of them, probably the closest to all conquering as we may ever see. Manchester United, Shaktar Donetsk, Estudiantes, Porto and Santos were just some of the clubs who fell to Pep’s juggernaut.  Their rivals responded by bringing in the Special One, who started slowly (reference the manita of November 2010) but eventually formed a team able to stand up to Pep’s team, winning the 2011 Copa del Rey and wresting the title away from Barca with a stunning win at the Nou Camp in the spring of 2012.

Tomorrow’s comments will look at my memories of recent El Clasicos and tactical innovations presented by the last couple of managers.

Morbo Minute–Pep’s Boys

One thing I added to my footy repertoire this season was the Copa del Rey.  I tried to predict the entire tournament from the Round of 16 on, with mixed results.  The Round of 16 went well, but once FCB beat Real Madrid in the quarters, I was toast.  I did predict Athletic Bilbao making the final, so I’ve got that going for me.

I made an effort to watch as many games as I could, reading results and keeping track of the competition.  I was rewarded with a fantastic tournament, highlighted by Espnayol’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 Bilbao; and a tense El Clasico quarter final that saw a sumptuous goal from Abidal and Madrid almost overturn Barcelona at the Nou Camp in the second leg.

Before the tournament got going, I looked at Pep’s record in the cup, which was quite formidable.  Pep 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 the 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.  Barca 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.

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Copa del Rey Final     FC Barcelona 3  Athletic Bilbao 0

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 epic.

As for me, I missed the game live.  I couldn’t get away from work and then our family went to a minor league baseball game that night, so I had to wait almost 24 hours to watch the replay of the match. . . in Spanish.

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 the Blaugrana machine, especially from Sanchez, but Athletic Bilbao were in quicksand.  Slow, plodding, Muniain not getting any touches; this was a different team than in either league game.  After 20 minutes, FCB doubled the trouble as Iniesta split open the defense 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.  To be honest, I didn’t really pay much attention to the second half. The result was beyond Los Leones (despite my attempted media blackout I saw the score), so I was off to the bar to watch the US National Team againstScotland.

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 Bilbao 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.