Messi plays Barcelona lead against Athletic Bilbao to lift Copa del Rey | Copa del Rey

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Seventy minutes went by in the 2021 Copa del Rey final when Jordi Alba and Lionel Messi did what Jordi Alba and Lionel Messi did, replicating the movement they produced a thousand times to complete a final which ended in a familiar style. Alba’s pass, the arrival of Messi and Barcelona scored the fourth goal of the night and their seventh Copa del Rey in 12 years. If Messi has to leave at the end of the season, at least they can remember him like that, scoring twice and lifting his 35th trophy at the club.

Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong, meanwhile, lifted their first after bringing Barcelona to life with the first and second of a four-goal bust early in the second half, which ended the little resistance that Athletic Bilbao could muster – which wasn’t much. Manager Ronald Koeman too, who must have wondered how his team didn’t lead at the break, but beamed at the end. In the end, they were just too good, taking the Athletic apart piece by piece. Rarely has a final been so one-sided.

There is room for optimism in Barcelona now, a trophy obtained, a league title still to be played. Maybe even a future too, whether with Messi or with the men he would leave behind. For Athletic, on the other hand, this deep cut. They have now lost two Copa del Rey finals here in a fortnight, five in 12 years and six since their last major trophy lift in 1984. Four of them have been against Barcelona, ​​in 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2021. In each of these finals, Messi has scored. And if defeat was still likely, they didn’t imagine it like that, destruction so complete, so comfortable.

If defeat was still probable, destruction so complete, so comfortable was not. “If we think we’re going to have more ball than Barcelona, ​​we don’t live in the real world,” Marcelino had said, but even he couldn’t imagine it. A minute and 59 seconds had passed before they even touched him, and it was a challenge that resulted in a throw, the cycle starting over and barely ending until the match was over.

The odds came early too, possession far from sterile. Just four minutes later, Messi rolled over De Jong’s path to hit the post. Whether Messi was on the edge of the six-yard penalty area would have concerned Athletic; that he got there so easily must have worried them even more. It was a recurring theme. At half-time, Athletic could only claim 18% of the ball, with Barcelona passing around them at ease, sometimes even at a walk.

Sergiño Dest cut inside and shot wide after six minutes. Messi scored a cleverly tilted ball for Griezmann that ended with a deflected effort sneaking past a post. A neat move between Messi and Óscar Mingueza pushed them deep into the Athletic’s zone and resulted in another blocked shot. All Athletic could do was wait, though Iñigo Martinez dove in to end a bouncy delivery just over the post, a fleeting reminder that they really were in the game.

Lionel Messi scores Barcelona's third goal on his way to a 35th trophy with the club.
Lionel Messi scores Barcelona’s third goal on his way to a 35th trophy with the club. Photograph: Angel Fernandez / AP

Marcelino left scratching his head at halftime, needing to do something, anything. Messi returned determined to put the game out of doubt, freeing Dest to retreat for Griezmann, sliding four yards from goal. Unai Simón made a superb point-blank save with his outstretched foot, the ball bouncing slightly away from the Frenchman. This was just the start, a savior temporarily emerging. Simón saved a shot from Pedri and then somehow stopped Sergio Busquets who looked skyward, unable to believe him. They had only played six minutes.

By the time they had played six more, Barcelona were leading and the play-off had erupted. From almost the same place where he had that first chance, Griezmann was presented with another. Superbly furnished by De Jong, standing this time, he went home.

The Athletic had trailed 1-0 in every game en route to this final but they had never felt that sense of inferiority and any hope of a retaliation was stifled four minutes later when the superb De Jong left the delivery from Alba. Athletic was over; Barcelona was not.

A wonderful movement that started deep in their own half started, continued and ended with Messi. The Argentine was involved in a series of exchanges with De Jong and in the end he walked in and rolled around the corner. Eight minutes, three goals, game over. Wait, no. Twelve minutes, four goals, and it was a destruction, ended with a move seen so many times but not easier to stop for him, a hint of nostalgia and another trophy.

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