Messi gets 2 to lead Barcelona past Bilbao 3-1 in cup final
BARCELONA, Spain— Lionel Messi scored a stunning opener before adding a second goal to lead Barcelona to the Copa del Rey title with a 3-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, giving the Catalan club its second of three possible trophies before it turns to the Champions League final.
Messi did it all by himself in the 20th minute when he dribbled past four Bilbao defenders to put Barcelona in charge. The star forward added a second goal after Neymar doubled the lead to build a 3-0 advantage as Barcelona claimed its record 27th cup title — and third in seven years, all at the expense of Bilbao.
Barcelona won the Spanish league two weeks ago and, led by Luis Enrique, has now won two major trophies for the first time since 2011. It finished last season without a major piece of silverware under former coach Gerardo Martino. It will have a chance to make it a rare treble when it plays Juventus for the European Cup in Berlin next Saturday.
“We have two, and now we want the third. That is the mentality of this team and this club,” Luis Enrique said. “Messi is the best player in the world, even though we are used to him. I saw his first goal up close, but I am eager to watch it again later.”
That goal was pure Messi: A unique combination of skill, speed and daring.
The Argentina forward appeared to be hemmed in when three defenders surrounded him on the right sideline but, instead of passing, Messi took them all on. He dribbled through the semicircle formed by Mikel Balenziaga, Mikel Rico and Benat Etxebarria, streaked into the area, changed foot to avoid Aymeric Laporte’s challenge, and then slotted a left-footed strike between the goalkeeper and the near post.
“If Messi isn’t unstoppable, he is almost unstoppable, he conditions everything you do,” said Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde. “His first goal was incredible.”
Messi’s goals were his 57th and 58th of the season as he recorded his 23rd trophy for Barcelona. He has scored in all three Copa del Rey finals Barcelona has won with him. With Neymar’s 38th goal, the trio of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have tallied 120 through all competitions this season.
One more victory over Juventus will let Barcelona match the feat of winning the three most important competitions of the season, first achieved under Pep Guardiola in 2008-09, when Barcelona became the only Spanish club to ever sweep the Champions League, Spanish league and Copa del Rey in the same season.
Down 1-0, Bilbao’s Iago Herrerin saved attempts by Neymar and Gerard Pique, but the goalkeeper could do nothing to stop Neymar from tapping home Suarez’s cross after Ivan Rakitic played the striker through in the 37th.
Messi sealed the title when he sped in front of two defenders to stab in Dani Alves’ pass with his left boot in the 74th.
Inaki Williams headed in Bilbao’s goal on its first shot on target with 10 minutes left.
Xavi Hernandez played his last match at Camp Nou and took his club record for total appearances to 766 after going on as a second-half substitute.
Instead of reflecting on his farewell after 17 seasons, the 35-year-old midfielder lauded more praise on Messi.
“Only Messi can do what he does when he is marked individually like that,” he said. “It’s a privilege to play with the best player in the world.”