It was only fitting that Lionel Messi in what could be his last season with Barcelona lifted the Copa del Rey – King’s Cup.
The football world only recently recovered from the declining realization that we may never see the great wizard host Real Madrid in El Clasico ever again, and that grief increased when he dismissed a plot in the 2-1 defeat.
Another wonderful performance from Messi | Quality Sport Images / Getty Images
So the idea that Messi would lose a cup final in what could possibly be his last chance for cutlery at the Camp Nou was simply unthinkable. Fortunately, Saturday night would be the Argentine night, where he danced and cheered from beginning to end, reminding us all why we see the beautiful game.
In fact, the entire Blaugrana team put in a display worth their talisman, and they went up to the incredibly high demands he makes each week, crushing Athletic Bilbao in an impressive 4-0 victory.
Only one team played in the first half.
Barcelona flew out of the blocks and stated their intention by cutting out three or four fantastic early chances. Messi was at his heart and played with a smile on his face and rolled back the years to when he was alien and unplayable, not just alien.
The very best | Soccrates Images / Getty Images
Frenkie de Jong should have hit the net when he was up in the box, but his placed finish kissed the post on full and bounced off. Messi fired from the right side of the box and the striker wasted a good chance from a free kick shortly after.
Ronald Koeman’s side pressed and strangled Bilbao high up on the pitch, Clement Lenglet went into midfield and squeezed some loose balls, and Gerard Pique kept a close eye on Inaki Williams’ movements.
After several obvious shirt pulling incidents, Sergio Busquets got himself booked. The manager of Sergio Busquets was not happy. It was as dominant a half as you could imagine, and the goal came.
And then it was not.
⚠️ @sergino_dest passes to @AntoGriezmann at the doorstep! Saved! # CopaBarça pic.twitter.com/bxshmYdyih
– FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 17, 2021
Bilbao started the gap, reorganized and settled in a long half of the defense. Barça were a bit unhappy with not taking advantage of their early chances, and even though they ended the first half with 79% possession, they struggled to test Unai Simon further.
Koeman would have been keen to emphasize his players the need for calm, but to maintain the intensity with which they attacked their opponents, and they did not disappoint. Antoine Griezmann should have broken the deadlock just three minutes into the second half, but he knocked the ball wide as he slid into the six-yard box.
But they broke Bilbao down on the hour mark, and from that moment on, they never looked back. Messi started and fed De Jong down on the right flank, and his exact cross found Griezmann’s feet, and this time he made no mistake.
MAGICAL FROM MESSI! ??
A moment of absolute genius, vintage Barcelona, and they are now well on their way to picking up another Copa del Rey trophy ?? pic.twitter.com/SWWOhMEIkB
– Watch Rangers vs. Celtic live on Premier Sports? (@PremierSportsTV) April 17, 2021
De Jong landed a second blow in three minutes on the rocking Bilbao, and then it was time for the captain to take center. Messi picked up the ball deep inside his own half on the right flank and began to weave classical magic.
He bounced the ball from De Jong and got it back, trembled into the box, easily cut into his left foot, sent his marker to another postcode and then rolled a perfect shot in the far corner.
It was devastatingly easy for Messi when he finished his third goal in eight minutes, but he was not finished there. He then gave us a glimpse of a scene we have witnessed a thousand times, when he arrived at a cut-off pass on the edge of the box and slotted an exact finish in the lower corner.
? ???? ??? ??? ????????? ❗ pic.twitter.com/aK0Cb4XDMI
– FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 17, 2021
It was simply impossible to watch that game without a smile on your face. Messi had fun on the pitch, and we had fun with him. He deserved to enjoy the applause for a full house as a last-minute replacement and leave the field a hero, but that would mean missing extra seconds of inspiration.
Whether this victory will be with grief for the Argentine, who is thinking about why his teammates can not play so consistently, we will never know.
But if it’s going to be Messi’s last dance at the ball and the final prize he raises in a Barcelona shirt, it was a pretty special way to do it.
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