Barcelona rallies against Athletic to win 25th Copa del Rey title
VALENCIA, Spain (AP) -- Barcelona rallied for a 4-1 victory against Athletic Bilbao for its record 25th Copa del Rey title on Wednesday.
Lionel Messi's 57th-minute winner was followed by Bojan Krkic and Xavi Hernandez sealing a deserved win that put the Catalans on course to become the first Spanish club to win three trophies in a season.
Barcelona's first domestic cup triumph since 1998 also snapped a trophy drought since a league-Champions League double in 2006.
Captain Carles Puyol received the trophy from King Juan Carlos before leading his teammates to a handful of laps around Mestalla Stadium, to the applause of both sets of fans.
"It's not a question of having liberated ourselves," coach Pep Guardiola said of the pressure on Barcelona to match its spectacular play with titles.
"We played a good game. It's a great day."
Guardiola also refused to take praise for guiding the club to a trophy in his rookie season.
"The team is on course, on course for something important. It's their football."
Gaizka Toquero headed Athletic in front after nine minutes before Yaya Toure equalized in the 32nd following an individual run from inside the Athletic half.
Barcelona dominated after that with Messi and Krkic scoring within two minutes and Xavi curling a free kick home in the 65th.
Athletic, which reached the final for the first time in 24 years, couldn't keep up with its Catalan rival as Barcelona showed why it is on the verge of winning the league this weekend, and will play Manchester United in the Champions League final on May 27.
"We came here to win but we came up against the best team in the world," Athletic coach Joaquin Caparros said.
Barcelona's defense was without Eric Abidal to suspension and Rafael Marquez to injury so Toure filled in at center back. The Ivory Coast midfielder single-handedly started the rally with an impressive goal where he moved around three opponents before beating Gorka Iraizoz with a stinging low shot from the edge of the area.
"It wasn't my best goal of my career but in terms of significance it was one of the finest," Toure said. "I think we've sent out a message after two years without a trophy."
The momentum turned Barcelona's way from then.
Athletic had managed to suffocate Messi and the Catalans' midfield early, and open through Toquero, who headed Fran Yeste's corner past Jose Manuel Pinto at the far post.
"We knew that the Basques would be physical, that they were very strong," Guardiola said. "Above all we knew that we were going to be facing a very aggressive team so it was important to get the ball out quick, to avoid contact and not let them suffocate us."
Athletic couldn't contain Barcelona, which was without Andres Iniesta and Thierry Henry to injury, with its physical play as Barcelona broke loose after Messi's sixth goal of the cup and 37th in all competitions.
The Argentina winger, playing in his first final for Barcelona, jumped on the rebound from Samuel Eto'o's shot inside the area and controlled to fire past the scrambling defense.
"The difference between Leo and others in these types of games is that these are the types of matches he loves to play," Guardiola said.
Messi then set up Krkic, who was making a rare start, two minutes later to slide a low shot past Iraizoz off the inside of the far post for his fifth cup goal.
Barcelona's Daniel Alves was hit by an object thrown from the Athletic side of the stands in the 60th, then Xavi again rewarded the delirious Barcelona fans who had made the trip down the coast by scoring from a free kick.
Since both clubs represent two of Spain's more autonomous provinces, all 45,000 spectators greeted King Juan Carlos' entrance to jeers, and whistled for the entirety of the Spanish national anthem.
The crowds didn't let up their support thereafter as Barcelona won it's first domestic cup for 11 years.
The match also marked the 25th anniversary of the two teams' last meeting in the competition, a 1-0 Athletic win marred by a mass brawl to close.
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