Barcelona advances to Copa del Rey final
Cesc Fabregas scored one goal and set up another as Barcelona beat Valencia 2-0 on Wednesday to advance to the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao.
Lionel Messi lobbed a long pass that Fabregas chased down and deftly chipped over goalkeeper Diego Alves for Barcelona’s 15th-minute opener.
And after Sofiane Feghouli left Valencia with 10 men late on after receiving his second booking, Fabregas set up Xavi Hernandez to send Barcelona through 3-1 on aggregate.
The final will pit the two most successful teams in the competition. Barcelona will look to add to its record 25 titles on May 25, while Bilbao aims to avenge its 2009 final loss to the Catalans that denied the club a 24th title.
”I am happy with the Copa campaign that my team has had, but we were playing against the best team in the world,” said Valencia coach Unai Emery, who has yet to beat Barcelona in eight tries.
”We had our chances until the second goal but Barcelona is a great team.”
Valencia received a setback just before kickoff when leading scorer Roberto Soldado was ruled unfit to play because of the flu. He was replaced by Basque striker Aritz Aduriz up front.
Barcelona, meanwhile, received a boost by the return of Xavi and Alexis Sanchez to the starting 11 and Andres Iniesta to the bench, while Isaac Cuenca and Thiago Alcantara again filled in for the injured Pedro Rodriguez and Sergio Busquets.
Contrary to Barcelona’s usual style, Valencia owned possession for the first 10 minutes and made all the attacking plays at Camp Nou stadium.
Feghouli had Valencia’s first clear chance when he was played behind Barcelona’s high defensive line and sent a left-footed blast into the side-netting in the 12th.
But Messi soon turned the flow of the game in the 15th, lobbing a long-range pass from the other side of the half-way line for Fabregas to run down and lift over Diego Alves.
It was Fabregas’ 15th goal of the season in all competitions. At this pace, he should have little trouble breaking his season-best tally of 19 from his time at Arsenal.
Messi almost set up another goal for Barcelona four minutes later after robbing defender Adil Rami, but Diego Alves blocked his shot and Cuenca sent the rebound wide.
Back in control, the Catalan giants settled into Valencia’s territory with Fabregas testing Diego Alves with a pair of strikes from inside the box before halftime.
Valencia caught Barcelona flatfooted after the restart, though, winger Jordi Alba and Aduriz drawing good saves from goalkeeper Jose Pinto.
Again it was Messi who put Barcelona back in charge, first firing a shot off a defender that hit the crossbar and then showing a lightning-fast change of foot to squirm through three defenders and flick a shot that Diego Alves dived to parry.
Yet unlike the first half, Valencia responded and Aduriz soon caught Pinto off his line, but Javier Mascherano cleared the danger.
Messi, who has had problems finishing off chances recently and had a penalty blocked by Diego Alves in the first leg, again missed from point-blank range after Alexis had robbed the ball and set him up with only the ‘keeper to beat.
Jonas, Valencia’s scorer in the first leg, forced Pinto to tip his rising strike over the bar in the 73rd as the game turned into an up-and-down contest late on.
But Feghouli left Valencia a man down from the 76th, and Fabregas rolled Alexis’ low cross over to an unmarked Xavi on the right side for his Spain teammate to blast into the left corner of the net in the 81st and seal the series.
Bilbao eliminated third-tier club Mirandes on Tuesday by an 8-3 aggregate score.