MADRID, Spain, May 26 – Barcelona gave coach Pep Guardiola the perfect send off Friday, beating Athletic Bilbao 3-0 in Madrid to win the Spanish Cup in the coach’s last match in charge after a memorable four seasons in the Catalan hot seat.
Lionel Messi, with his 73rd goal of the season, and a Pedro Rodriguez double finished off the Basque side inside the first half an hour and delivered Guardiola his 14th and final trophy at the club.
Guardiola leaves the side he once played for with three Spanish leagues, two Champions Leagues, two FIFA World Club Cups, two UEFA Supercups, three Spanish Supercups and two Spanish Cup victories as coach.
The win was a repeat of Guardiola’s first title in the 2008-09 final when the Catalans ran out 4-1 victors over Bilbao.
Guardiola has never lost to Athletic in his four seasons, winning ten out of 15 clashes between the two sides who boast the most Spanish Cup victories, Barca making it 26 with this win to Bilbao’s 23 titles.
Afterwards the 41 year-old from the small town of Santpedor, 70 kilometres (40 miles) outside the Catalan capital, was happy with the win and spoke of the role Messi has played during his time at the club.
“Fourteen titles in 4 years is a very high standard so I am very happy to leave the club in a good position, and tonight we played great for the first 35 minutes, we’ve had a good year with 4 titles so I leave very satisfied,” he said.
“From Messi I have learned to be even more competitive than I ever was, without him we would not have won the number of titles we have and I’m very priviledged to have coached who for me is the best player I have ever seen.”
Marcelo Bielsa, the Argentinian veteran in charge of Bilbao was philosophical in defeat.
“I put out a team I thought could win tonight, but we were not able to live up to the expectations of our fans,” he said.
With Dani Alves and Carles Puyol injured, Guardiola had decided to start with a four-man defence including the youngster Martin Montoya at right-back.
He also made the decision to give Pedro a final chance to play himself into the Spanish squad for Euro 2012 and the forward grabbed it with both feet.
Bilbao got an early warning of what to expect when Messi went straight into a mazy run from kick-off before shooting just wide.
Within three minutes of the start Barca were ahead.
When centre-half Amorebieta diverted a goal-bound Pedro shot wide, the striker latched on to a loose ball to fire home from the resulting corner.
On 15 minutes Messi had a left-footed curling shot tipped over the bar by Bilbao stopper Gorka Iraizoz and three minutes later Xavi Hernandez shot just over the bar.
It was therefore no surprise when Messi doubled the lead on 21 minutes, the little Argentinian taking one touch to control a slide-rule pass from Andres Iniesta before slamming home from close range.
Four minutes later and Pedro made it three to end all doubts of where the cup would be heading.
Gerard Pique played a long searching pass to Xavi on the edge of the area who cleverly laid it back for the Tenerife-born player to side foot home his second.
Bilbao continued to battle and within a minute going three down Markel Susaeta brought the first save at the other end from Jose Pinto, who has replaced Victor Valdes all season in goal for Barca in domestic cup games.
The Basques had further chances to reduce the margin.
On 28 minutes referee David Fernandez waved away what appeared to be a clear penalty after Pique had pulled down Fernando Llorente and Iker Muniain had an angled shot blocked at the near-post on the stroke of half-time.
Backed by their impressive fans who refused to be silenced by the scoreline, they continued to look for a way back throughout.
Ibai Gomez, Inigo Perez and Jon Aurtenetxe all had chances but they failed to score in a final for the second time this season, following their 3-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League.
At the other end Gorka denied Messi after another scintillating run as Barca were content to run down the clock and savour the occasion.
Guardiola has said he will now take a season break from the game before deciding where his future lies.
Here he continued to wring every ounce of effort out of his side from the sidelines in the final moments of a glittering reign to assure another title for his Barcelona side.