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Dec 4, 2012 10:14pm
Medium lingzi 1454 posts

BARCELONA, Spain—Barcelona can cap four illustrious years under Pep Guardiola
with a 14th trophy when it plays Athletic Bilbao in Fridays Copa del Rey final.
The match at Atletico Madrids Vicente Calderon Stadium will be Guardiolas last
in charge of the team, ending an unprecedented period of success for Barcelona
since the former player took charge in 2008. The 41-year-old Guardiola will be
looking to finish the way he started, as a 4-1 cup victory over Athletic three
years ago provided the first prize for his trophy cabinet. Ready to hand over
the coaching duties to his assistant and good friend Tito Vilanova, Guardiola
will look at the game as an opportunity to cap a season that started well but
finished poorly. Barcelona hasnt played a meaningful game in one month after it
lost to eventual Champions League winner Chelsea in the semifinals, just days
after losing to Real Madrid to surrender its three-year hold on the Spanish
league. “Ive got the feeling we are very well prepared for this final,”
Guardiola said from the Camp Nou on Thursday. “A final is always there to be
won.” A record 26th domestic cup will at least send Guardiola out on a high and
would deliver a fourth trophy in this campaign after winning the Spanish Super
Cup, European Super Cup and Club World Cup. Barcelona remains without injured
striker David Villa and its defence is also depleted as Carles Puyol, Eric
Abidal and Daniel Alves are all missing. Striker Alexis Sanchez returns from
injury while backup goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto—who has started all cup
games under Guardiola—should get the nod after missing the last game of the
season with an ankle injury. “The illnesses that befell players we love in this
club were the worst thing, everything else turned out well,” Guardiola said. He
summarized his time in charge with a reference to Abidals long-running liver
illness which forced the France defender to undergo a transplant in March. “His
departure is going to be dramatic for me,” defender Gerard Pique said. “Hell
leave a void but Tito will continue on and well do well. Its normal for eras to
end in football.” Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa could also be seeing his term
coming to an end. Bielsa hasnt said whether he will continue next season, and
the Argentine coach has refused to budge on the question until after the cup
final. Like Barcelona, Bilbao risks closing the season on a low, having lost 3-0
to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final. The Basque club will have
welcomed a long layoff following the longest season of any Spanish club playing
in Europe. “We dont dwell on favourites,” Bielsa said on Thursday. “After coming
so close to a title already this is a fantastic opportunity that motivates us,
were fully optimistic on our chances.” The teams have combined to win the
competition 48 times, and the matchup promises to provide unrelenting, attacking
football, although a quick replant of turf at the Calderon following a Coldplay
concert may hinder the players some. “Athletic enjoys one advantage that we dont
in that their team hasnt won any titles this season, so there is hunger there,”
Guardiola said. “Its going to be a nice final. They will attack and so will we.”
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