Valencia crown centenary year with Copa del Rey triumph
11 years later, spurred on by the centenary factor, Valencia have won the Copa del Rey once more. They performed marvellously in Seville to lift the cup, in a game that they managed confidently in the first half against a bewildered, depressed Barcelona - and that changed after the break. Improved by their substitutions, and having regained that cut-throat winners' desire, Barça gave Valencia a torrid time of it after half time, but they held out with all their might to earn a hard-fought victory, having survived the vicissitudes the game can throw at you: from being in control of a first 45 defined by their clinical counter-attacks, to surviving a ferocious, Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué-led onslaught by Barça in the second.
The sides didn't exactly throw themselves at each other from the off. Barça took charge of the ball but in attack felt the absence of Luis Suárez, whose constant movement opens up spaces for Messi et al. A well-drilled Valencia held firm with relative ease before launching periodic breaks that caught out Barça, whose midfield failed to track back and left the defence badly exposed. After Piqué had cleared one off the line, the Blaugrana were unable to prevent first Rodrigo, then Kevin Gameiro scoring for Valencia. At 2-0 down, Piqué began to make his presence felt going forward, and thanks to him we saw Barça rally late on in the half, in a period that brought the first problems for Valencia goalkeeper Jaume Doménech.
Barça then emerged from the dressing room a changed side, shaking off their Anfield doldrums and reaping the benefit of their substitutions, particularly Malcom. Piqué installed himself up front and, at the height of the second-half battle, Dani Parejo was forced off injured. Marcelino sought to shore up his team with successive defensive changes; he couldn't do much else. Valencia were fighting off a Barça side who, with Messi to the fore, were playing with rediscovered pride and passion for the badge. As Barça threw caution to the wind, Gonçalo Guedes spurned two clear chances, but Los Che nonetheless clinched a trophy that is the ideal finish to a season in which they've slowly but surely come to the boil. Congratulations!