Guardiola signs off from Barcelona with trophy in hand
Athletic Bilbao 0 Barcelona 3
Vicente Calderon Stadium
Saturday 26 May 2012
So Pep Guardiola's incredible winning streak with Barcelona ends where it began – with a Spanish Cup final victory over Athletic Bilbao.
Last night in Madrid the Barça coach bowed out with his 14th trophy in four years in the same competition against the same team as his first cup in 2008.
He had been asked about his sabbatical in the build-up to the game and said if a team could seduce him then after recharging his batteries he would return to coaching. The seduction will have already started and this performance will only serve to make sure it intensifies.
Guardiola does not leave a team coming to the end of a glorious cycle, he departs one that still looks formidable. The high but ultra-secure defensive line, the merry-go-round of fizzing midfield passes and the clinical finishing – all things that temporarily disappeared against Chelsea and Real Madrid recently – were back as Barça finished the season in style.
Athletic had failed to show up for the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid and their nosy supporters hoped for an improvement but their domestic final performance was even worse. Lionel Messi flashed a shot past the post in the first minute and by the third minute Barça were in front.
Xavi's corner was headed down by Gerard Pique and when Athletic failed to clear Pedro swept in the loose ball. On 18 minutes Messi went close again and two minutes later he had doubled Barcelona's lead. Andres Iniesta threaded the ball through for the Argentine who took one touch before sending his 74th goal of the season beyond Gorka Iraizoz. On 25 minutes Pedro got his second of the game. Xavi laid the ball off to him in the penalty area and he found the far corner with another low curling shot.
At the other end Jose Pinto had to save from Markel Susaeta as Athletic tested the Barcelona keeper for the first time. And when Fernando Llorente spun away from Pique in the box and went dramatically to ground there were calls for a penalty but the referee rightly waved them away.
Ander Herrera came on at half time and his pass put Ibai Gomez through on 50 minutes but he shot well wide. Had they taken that chance an unthinkable comeback might have been on but instead Barcelona strolled to victory and the Barça fans were left singing the name of their incredible coach.
Barcelona ( 4-3-3) Pinto; Montoya, Mascherano, Piqué, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro
Athletic Bilbao (4-3-3): Gorka; Iraola, Ekiza, Amorebieta, Aurtenetxe; J Martinez, De Marcos, Muniain; Susaeta, Llorente, Ibai.
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