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Fitting end to Guardiola’s Barca reign

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iol spt may26 Guardiola

REUTERS

Barcelona gave Pep Guardiola a fitting end to his glittering four-year reign as coach winning the King's Cup final against Athletic Bilbao.

Madrid - Barcelona gave Pep Guardiola a fitting end to his glittering four-year reign as coach winning the King's Cup final against Athletic Bilbao 3-0 on Friday to send him off with a 14th trophy under his arm.

Pedro scored a brace and the outstanding player of the Guardiola era, World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, added the other to finish with an unprecedented 73 goals in all competitions this season.

Guardiola hands over to his assistant Tito Vilanova for next season, as he goes off to recharge his batteries, after winning three consecutive La Liga titles, two Champions League crowns in 2009 and 2011, and two King's Cups.

His 14 trophies matches Johan Cruyff's tally from eight years as Barca coach, and of the 19 competitions he has competed in, it is easier to list the five he has failed to snare.

Guardiola lost the King's Cup final 1-0 after extra-time against Real Madrid last year and made a last 16 exit in 2010. He twice fell in the Champions League semi-finals to eventual winners Inter Milan and Chelsea.

In the league, Barca only lost out to Real to finish second earlier this month after Jose Mourinho's side broke the league points and goal-scoring record to top the standings.

“Winning 14 titles in four years is very difficult and we are very satisfied,” a beaming Guardiola told a news conference.”

“This has been the best year, in which we have made the most progress tactically. During the first few years it was all energy and fireworks. I watch matches from our first season and we made more mistakes.”

Asked if he thought his side were the best in history, he added, “It would be presumptuous to say something like that. I know we have left behind some good memories and that people will remember that they had a good time. Anything else is just words.”

For Bilbao, it completed a miserable end to a season in which they had thrilled with their dynamic brand of attacking football.

They reached the Europa League final, seeing off Manchester United and Schalke 04 along the way, to be crushed 3-0 by Atletico Madrid two weeks ago, before the heartache of a second final defeat, by the same score.

They take away the consolation of a place in the Europa League next season as the losing finalists, with Barca already qualified for the Champions League again.

“I thank the fans for their generosity,” Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa said in reference fans' chants for him to stay after the final whistle, though he gave little away on his future at his post-match news conference.

“I already said that once the season was over, two parties would sit down to evaluate whether the coaching staff that I lead will continue or not.”

As expected, a shortened version of the Spanish national anthem before kickoff was met with a cacophony of whistles from the Basque and Catalan nationalists among the fans.

That was quickly forgotten in a whirlwind opening at a festive Calderon in Madrid.

Messi curled a shot past the post in the first minute and Pedro had an effort deflected wide for a corner which led to the opening goal in only the third minute.

The diminutive forward swept in a loose ball in front of the ecstatic Barca fans.

Andres Iniesta slipped a ball through for Messi to score the second, the Argentine smashing a shot high into the net from a tight angle in the 20th minute and Bilbao were finished off soon after.

Pedro fired in a curling shot to end the game as a contest and boosted his chances of a call up to Spain's final 23-man squad for Euro 2012, which Vicente del Bosque is due to announce on Sunday.

As Barca peeled away to celebrate, some Bilbao players were already sinking to their knees.

Barca reserve goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto, who always plays instead of Victor Valdes in the Cup, made a couple of saves before the break, but Bilbao faded away as Barca hogged possession.

The victory set up a tough debut for Barca's incoming coach Vilanova, who will now take on arch-rivals and league champions Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup in August, the traditional curtain-raiser to the new season. – Reuters


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