Madrid, May 28: Argentine Lionel Messi and Brazilian Neymar, with one goal each against Alaves, were responsible for winning FC Barcelona’s third straight Copa del Rey tourney 3-1.
The two unstoppable players wrapped up the match just before halftime at the Vicente Calderon Stadium here on Saturday night.
After failing to win the La Liga championship and eliminated in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, the Barcelona squad nonetheless closed the Luis Enrique era — this was his last game as Barca’s head coach — by winning their third straight Copa del Rey title, a consolation prize for a team with no trophy in the big competitions this season, Efe news agency reported.
With both Luis Suarez and Sergi Roberto injured, Luis Enrique opted to play Paco Alcacer in attack and Javier Mascherano at right back.
Alcacer nodded a header just wide after five minutes, but Mascherano’s game ended before the tenth minute following a clash of heads with Marcos Llorente which left him bleeding badly from a head cut and he was replaced by Andre Gomes, although it was possibly his fall damaging a knee rather than the cut which was the reason for the change.
As expected, Alaves looked to defend effectively while trying to hit Barca on the break and the first half produced a fascinating contrast in styles.
Ibai Gomez hit the Barca post in the 27th minute with a shot which then ran agonisingly along the goal-line before bouncing clear, while at the other end Fernando Pacheco reacted well to stop a deflected shot from Andres Iniesta.
Alaves held off Barca until half an hour through the first half, when the game changed thanks to the efficiency and talent of Lionel Messi and Neymar.
First it was Messi, who took a pass at the edge of the box from Neymar and left-footed it into the net for a 1-0 lead in the 30th minute.
It was the 52nd goal of the season in all competitions for Messi.
The lead lasted last than three minutes before Theo Hernandez equalised with a free kick from outside the box into the far corner which Barca goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen maybe could have done more to stop.
But that was it for Alaves. It looked like a 1-1 tie going into halftime, and in the second half anything could happen, right? Wrong. At minute 45 of the first half, Neymar drove the ball into the net to make it 2-1.
Messi again produced a magical run to set up Alcacer to hit the ball across the despairing Pacheco and tip the game decisively Barca’s way.
And then the seemingly impossible happened. There was still enough injury time for Barca’s Paco Alcacer to take another brilliant pass from Messi, get around Alaves goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco to score and make it 3-1 at halftime.
After a scoreless second half, Barcelona took home their third straight Copa del Rey championship, a fond farewell for coach Luis Enrique.
The former Barcelona midfielder thus capped his last game as FC Barcelona manager with a trophy, ending his three-year spell with a total of nine titles out of a possible thirteen. He ends his spell as coach with an average of three trophies per season.
As well as silverware, the former Spain star has left his mark on the club with some incredible and memorable runs — the 32 wins and seven draws between October 2015 and March 2016 is the longest unbeaten streak of any manager in the club’s history.
His start to life as Barça manager was perfect, with seven victories from as many games and it also ended in spectacular fashion by winning the treble.
Enrique’s spell as Barca manager has been trophy-laden, with the team winning all but four of the 13 titles available during the last three years — two La Ligas, three Copa del Rey, one Champions League, a European Super Cup, a Spanish Super Cup and a Club World Cup.