Lionel Messi scored another wonder goal as Barcelona moved a step closer to completing the treble on Saturday night with a 3-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final.
Neymar thought that he had opened the scoring as early as in the 10th minute, only for his neat volley to be ruled out for an offside, but it was not long until Barca were celebrating their first goal – and it came in some style. Messi, starting just inside the Athletic half near the right touchline, weaved his way past four defenders and then beat Iago Herrerin at his near post for a stunning strike which set the Nou Camp alight. Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez then combined, with the latter unselfishly setting up Neymar for a straightforward finish for number two.
Xavi, who will join Qatari side Al-Sadd at the end of the season having spent his whole career at Barca, was introduced as a 54th-minute substitute for Andres Iniesta. Dani Alves escaped down the right and provided the perfect cross for Messi to make it a 3-0, 16 minutes from time, his first-time finish too good for Herrerin. Twenty-year-old Inaki Williams, who had struck the bar with a volley four minutes before half-time, was rewarded for his endeavour with a consolation cup final goal 11 minutes from time, but that was as good as it got for the Basque outfit. There was almost a fairy tale ending for Xavi, on his emotional final appearance at the Nou Camp, but his stoppage-time free kick skimmed the post.
Athletic was always on the back foot, even before Messi’s spectacular solo effort. Their coach Ernesto Valverde admitted on Friday that he had no idea how to stop the prolific Argentina forward, and his players were equally bamboozled on the pitch. They had no answer when the mercurial 27-year-old set out on a mazy run which ended in a fierce shot past Herrerin.
Goal number three took the tally for Barca strike trio of Messi, Neymar and Suarez to 120 goals this season, a Spanish record.
Xavi and Iniesta received the cup together from King Felipe of Spain, in front of a largely delighted crowd of 99,354.
The triumph handed Barca their 27th Copa crown and, having already won the Primera Division title, it could get even better for Luis Enrique’s side when they take on Juventus in the Champions League final next weekend.