Messi and Neymar were on target to give FC Barcelona their 2nd trophy of the season. La Blaugrana sealed a comfortable 3-1 to secure their record 27th Copa del Rey title.
A brace from Lionel Messi and another from Neymar keeps the Catalans on track for an historic treble.
Both teams started the game well creating half chances but it was Neymar’s disallowed goal that made the talking point in the start.
The Brazilian was on hand to volley a Messi superb curling cross into the net with 10 minutes on the clock, but Bilbao were saved by the linesman’s flag although replays show he was just onside.
It was Athletic’s goalkeeper Iago Herrerin who came to their rescue moments later when the inspired Ivan Rakitic swung a pass through to Luis Suarez, the Bilbao stopper making himself big to deny the Uruguayan from close range.
Then…. Messi happened!
Messi was then bored of the game and decided to change the course. He may have said to himself “Ok ok ok, time up, now it’s time to take centre stage here.” The Argentine broke the deadlock for Barca in the 20th minute with a strike that was cannot be described. Honestly, the goal was something else. This match report came late because I spent a lot of time figuring out the best adjectives to describe the goal with but still, I could not find. The Argentine beat five Athletic Bilbao players with dribbles on the run from almost the middle of the pitch before rifling an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner, just were the goalkeeper was. It was some sort of goal.
Neymar doubled the La Liga champion’s lead in the 15 minutes later following good link-up play between Messi and Rakitic who played Luis Suarez through, the Uruguayan continued his love affair with Neymar squaring the ball to the Brazilian who tapped-in to an empty net from just yards out.
The Basque outfits posed little threat to their opponents’ goal, but did nick the crossbar moments before half time as captain Andoni Iraola picked out Inaki Williams and the midfielder fired a volley unto the crossbar.
Barca could have killed the game off on the stroke of half time, but Herrerin produced an acrobatic save to keep out Messi’s curling effort, giving his side hope of salvaging something in the second period.
Bilbao looked tighter after the break, but the Catalans had another chance to kill the game off in the 57th minute when Suarez pounced on a loose ball in the box, only to be denied by a last-ditch challenge from Xabier Etxeitia.
Although Ernesto Valverde’s side saw more of the ball in the second half, they still struggled to create anything in the final third, and it was only a matter of time before the champions put this one to bed.
Neymar played a fantastic through ball to Dani Alves on the wing who crossed from close range and Messi sped his way through to fire home on 74 minutes following poor defending from Bilbao.
Williams was Bilbao’s standout performer of the evening, and he got his name on the scoresheet late on, heading Ibai Gomez’s cross into the bottom corner to pull a goal back with 10 minutes remaining, although Barca’s keeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen could have done better.
Tensions boiled over in the dying stages as the Bilbao players reacted angrily to some alleged showboasting from Neymar. The Brazilian did a rainbow flick at the flank that did not impress Athletic players.
Xavi then rattled the post with a curling free kick in stoppage time.
Barca’s cup triumph puts them in contention for a treble this season, with the Catalans due to face Juventus in the Champions League final on June 6 in Berlin.