MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 25: Barcelona players celebrate their third goal during the Copa del Rey Final match between Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona at Vicente Calderon Stadium on May 25, 2012 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

Barcelona Win The Copa Del Rey

In Pep Guardiola's last game as head coach of the blaugrana, there was no stopping Lionel Messi and company, who demolished Bilbao, 3-0.

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FC Barcelona Vs. Athletic Bilbao, 2012 Copa Del Rey Final Full Time: Blaugrana Win Copa 0-3

FC Barcelona beat Athletic Club Bilbao 0-3 in the Estadio Vicente Calderón in Madrid to claim the 2011-2012 Copa del Rey. The blaugrana dominated los leones from the opening whistle, passing quickly, slowly, methodically, embodying everything that the world fell in love with during the tenure of Pep Guardiola. Pedro (2', 24') and Lionel Messi (19') scored the winning goals for Barcelona, in the game that signaled the end of Guradiola's time with the club. The Catalan side thoroughly deserved this title, dominating in vintage style an Athletic Bilbao team that seemed listless and uninventive with the ball.

After the opening barrage of goals in the first half--Barça would have their final margin of victory within twenty-five minutes--the game slowed down a little, with Bilbao trying their best to push into Barcelona's territory. The second half would see Bilbao attack more and more, though with very little success, as the Barcelona defense--lead by a fantastic Javier Mascherano--managed to counter every single attack.

Athletic's attacks seemed to become more and more vertical as the half wore on, but with Fernando Llorente perfectly covered by national team compatriot Gerard Piqué, there was little the Basque side managed to accomplish. Barcelona seemed content to rest on their--admittedly fantastic--first half laurels, with their occasional attacks coming by way of Leo Messi (who else?).

As the game wore down, and the Barcelona fans and coaches could feel victory approaching, Pep Guardiola finally seemed content. He grinned widely, waved to his players celebrating on the bench, and then turned to his successor (Tito Vilanova, his assistant) and gave him a long, heartfelt hug. It was an important moment for a Barcelona community that has been worrying about the coming change in leadership.

Sure, Guardiola and Vilanova seemed to say, the end of the Pep era is upon us; but the Vilanova era has just begun. Or at least that's what we'd like to believe.


FC Barcelona Vs. Athletic Bilbao, 2012 Copa Del Rey Final Halftime: Blaugrana Dominating 0-3

Well, that was quick. In the preview to this match, I talked about what the Spanish call ganas, or what some of us in the baseball world would call want: that is, a player or a team's level of dedication to a cause, their will to win and to succeed. I talked about how neither of these two teams had exhibited very much will to win--they just didn't have very much want--towards the end of the season. Both sides let important titles slip from their fingers, and both sides had payed the ultimate price--that is, being essentially shut out.

Well, not any more.

It's pretty fitting that Barcelona would come out so well today--after all, it is Pep Guardiola's last match as manager. Guardiola, for all the bumps he took at times (and really, he didn't take that many bumps--he's pretty much the most successful manager in Barça's history), has always been a tactical genius, and he didn't disappoint tonight. His side has absolutely dominated Marcelo Bielsa's very poor Athletic Bilbao, taking the lead only two minutes after the starting whistle on a blast by Pedro. The ball could have been cleared by Athletic's defense--which has been piss-poor on the night--but Pedro slipped in and slotted the ball (and, it looks like, the game) home.

After that goal, it didn't look like Bilbao would have any shot of getting back into the match. And Leo Messi put them out of their misery only fifteen minutes later, when in the 19th minute, Andrés Iniesta found him lurking in the area. Messi controlled Iniesta's brilliant pass with ease, and found the back of the net with his right foot, beating keeper Gorka Iraizoz (great name) on the near post. 0-2, and the celebrations had already begun in Cataluña.

But the half wasn't even...halfway (...) done at that point; Barcelona still had a full twenty-five minutes to score a few more! And score they did, as Pedro curled a back pass past a diving Iraizoz only five minutes later. The play was set up by a series of mishaps by the Athletic defense--who, like I said, were by a large margin the worst part of this game (though I can't think of a team that could keep Barça in check when they're playing like this). Ultimately, though, Pedro and Barcelona have been hugely, infinitely, superior in both tactical quality and ganas (want).

After the goal, in the lull period between their domination and the final whistle, Fernando Llorente was pulled down in the box, marking one of the most obvious penalties ever not called in a final. It was shocking. But ultimately, it won't matter.

Because Barcelona are displaying a tremendous amount of want.

(Oh, and for what it's worth, there were no major incidences during the national anthem. Phew.)


FC Barcelona Vs. Athletic Bilbao, 2012 Copa Del Rey: Political Questions Loom As Anthem Approaches

The consensus in Madrid is pretty clear: Esperanza Aguirre, the President of the Comunidad de Madrid (the province where Madrid is located), should not have talked about the Spanish national anthem. A couple days ago, after some groups of fans voiced a plan to whistle the national anthem during pregame ceremonies, Aguirre said to El Pais,

"We must not stand for this, and my opinion is the Copa final should be abandoned if there are whistles during the anthem, and played behind closed doors. This trophy was awarded by the President of the Republic when there was a republic, Franco when Franco was here and now by his majesty the King. This is a Spanish competition. If there are teams that do not want to play in a Spanish tournament, then don't play. But what cannot be the case is that it is converted into an act of hostile protest against Spain and Spaniards." (Bolds mine)

It was probably not the right thing to say.

Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao represent two of the most vocal groups in Spanish politics: Barcelona has come to embody Catalan nationalism and resistance to Spain’s central government (based, of course, in Madrid). Athletic Bilbao might be an even more extreme example, as they count among their numbers a large group of Basque nationalists, a community that has been particularly vocal opponents of Spain’s national system.

Both groups of fans tend to dislike the Spanish government, and representations of Spanish national identity—in particular, they tend to be very disdainful of the King. There is a lot more history to go into on this point—it dates all the way back to the beginning of Spanish fascism and Francisco Franco’s military dictatorship (for more Spanish history, check out Stanley Payne's A History of Spain and Portugal, or read it here)—but the basic upshot of the situation is that neither side’s fans (again, in general) particularly appreciate the idea of the King, and much less the idea of a "King’s Cup." (For what it’s worth, under Franco this competition was named as the Generalísimo’s Cup, which was abandoned for obvious reasons).

Both sets of fans also have a history of voicing their displeasure at the Spanish government by whistling loudly during the Spanish national anthem. All of this is compounded by the fact that these two sides are playing each other—unlikely at best to start the season—in the final of the King’s Cup, which both sides insisted on being held in Madrid, the seat of the Spanish government’s power.

Oh, and did I mention that the municipal government of Madrid (in this case the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Madrid) has sanctioned a demonstration by falangistas (fascists) in the name of "national unity" for the same evening? And that many of these people marching in Madrid will probably be supporters of Real Madrid (rivals of both sides)?

We’ll keep you covered when if this blows up. Luckily for all of us, the game is not being held in Real Madrid’s stadium the Santiago Bernabéu, as was originally requested. Instead, they’re in the Vicente Calderón, on the other end of the city. That should—hopefully—prevent any major incidences.

This could get ugly folks.

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