A cannonball from Gonçalo Guedes just before half-time in Mestalla sent Valencia into the final of the Copa del Rey, where they will play either Betis or Rayo. Guedes’ incredible strike, from the outside the area, picking up the ball from a Yeray Álvarez clearance and hammering it expertly just inside the near post, crowned the Portuguese as man of the match in a fierce, tough and competitive match typical of the Copa, but played in a spirit that contrasted with the opening leg in San Mamés. The work of referee Gil Manzano contributed to the spectacle, the official overseeing the game with firmness, without authoritative posturing, and with overall success. When a game has a good referee, it brings the best out of the players. The fixture in Mestalla did. It was a good semi-final.
Guedes’ goal arrived shortly after Iñaki Williams had failed to take Athletic’s best chance of the game at the other end, latching on to an excellent ball from Iker Muniain but losing out in a one-on-one with Mamardashvili. Football is a game of snap shots. Among the constant ebb and flow of moves from one end to the other, these mere hundredths of seconds out of the 90 minutes decide the outcome. On few occasions is this seen as clearly as in those brief instants at the end of the first half, one goal eluding the elder Williams brother and Guedes hitting his unstoppable shot.
Athletic and Valencia do the Copa del Rey justice
It was an enjoyable game in any case, and one that remedied the ill-effects of the opening leg. The two sides played with the same enthusiasm as their fans, Athletic’s lining the streets around the Lezama training ground to see their side off and Valencia’s, outside and inside Mestalla. Athletic should have no regrets about the result, beyond a lack of precise finishing that has been the team’s Achilles heel since the years caught up with Aritz Aduriz. The Lions have not made it to the final of their favourite tournament, but they have a glorious run, beating Real Madrid and Barcelona to reach the semis. Valencia are also a cup side – this will be their 18th final – and they are a more than worthy finalist. On Thursday they will discover their opponent in the showpiece game. For now, they should enjoy the moment.