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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Barca gives Guardiola winning finale


MADRID — Barcelona provided manager Pep Guardiola with the perfect send-off by thrashing Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in the Copa del Rey final on Friday, earning the club's most successful coach a 14th trophy.

News photo
Fit for a king: Barcelona's Pedro Rodriguez (right) and Athletic Bilbao's Markel Susaeta compete during the Copa del Rey final in Madrid on Friday. AFP-JIJI

Pedro Rodriguez scored either side of Lionel Messi's 73rd goal of the season as the Catalan club demonstrated the virtues — quick-touch passing, intricate combinations and clinical finishing — that marked Guardiola's four seasons at the helm.

Barcelona's record 26th domestic cup gave the bittersweet season some shine, partially making up for its failure to repeat as Champions League and Spanish League winners.

"We had a very good year, we won four titles and winning this cup gives them better value," Guardiola said. "I'm happy to close out the season this way."

Athletic's chase for its first silverware since 1984 again faltered as the young Basque team showed little improvement from the side beaten 3-0 by Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final this month, leaving its first season under coach Marcelo Bielsa without silverware.

Pedro likely secured a spot in Spain's Euro 2012 squad by scoring in the third and 25th minutes, five minutes after Messi extended his season goal tally — unprecedented in European soccer.

The fans filling the 55,000-seat Calderon Stadium were united moments before the start as Catalan and Basque spectators — many self-defined by their hostility to the centralized national government — jeered the playing of the Spanish anthem, just as they did in Valencia three years ago when Barcelona's 4-1 win over Bilbao provided Guardiola with his maiden title.

Barcelona won the Club World Cup, European Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup this season to make it 14 of a possible 19 titles for the 41-year-old coach — who now stands aside to be replaced by assistant Tito Vilanova — since taking charge in 2008.

"I feel like I left some good things behind for the club and that others will continue the good work," Guardiola said. "Now I will rest and try in the future a new challenge."

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