La Liga - Ronaldo fires Real to Copa glory
Real Madrid defeated Barcelona 1-0 in a dramatic Copa del Rey final at Valencia's Mestalla, giving Los Blancos the edge ahead of the two sides’ impending Champions League semi-final.
Cristiano Ronaldo struck in extra time to take the King’s Cup to the Bernabeu for the first time since 1993, his second goal in four days against the Liga champions.
And after a colossal contest between the two Spanish superpowers which saw the first half bossed by Real and the second by Barca, the Portugese forward clinched it two minutes from half-time in the supplementary half-hour period.
The win not only breaks a near 20-year duck for Los Merengues, but denies Pep Guardiola’s men a second domestic treble and issues a loud and clear response to criticism aimed at Jose Mourinho following the side’s lack of fire at the Bernabeu in the league Clasico on Saturday.
Those who have watched their fair share of Barcelona matches in recent years would have thought their eyes were deceiving them, as the league champions gave away possession more times than they probably have in their last several games combined.
Meanwhile, Madrid utilised physical tactics to stifle the attacking triumvirate of Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro – while Ronaldo laboured in his makeshift duty of target man between Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria.
Real, perhaps spurred on by the harsh words of club legend and honorary president Alfredo di Stefano, took the initiative early and continued their momentum from their fine finish to the heated league clash at the weekend between the two.
Pepe, continuing his new role as holding midfielder, was booked on 26 minutes for bringing down Pedro and could easily have picked up a second 10 minutes later with a silly clip on Sergio Busquets in the Barcelona box, but got away with a final warning.
Had he been sent off there and then, he would not have been around on the stroke of half-time to head onto the post in an excellent Real move.
Things switched completely following the interval as Barcelona began to look more like their old selves and Pedro and Messi both came close to breaking the deadlock.
And on 69 minutes, it looked like Pedro had done just that, only for the flag to go up as he slotted past Casillas for being a whisker offside for Messi’s ball through.
Barca’s dangerous duo both tested Casillas minutes later in quick succession, but a fine pair of saves a quarter-hour from full-time kept the scoresheet blank.
Despite the arrival of Emmanuel Adebayor from the bench for Real giving them more chances on the break, Casillas had to be on top form to deny Iniesta as extra time beckoned.
And on the aforementioned counter, Di Maria forced a superb parry at full stretch from Pinto with a beautiful curling effort in the dying embers of normal time.
As 30 more minutes progressed, Real had their second wind confirmed when Pepe disposed Xavi to allow Xabi Alondo to send Ronaldo through, though his shot flashed across Pinto’s goal.
There was no missing the target five minutes later, as the £80million man headed home Di Maria’s pinpoint floating cross.
Though Messi and Pedro continued to sniff around for a lifeline, it was the Whites who continued to have the better chances with the 120 minute mark approaching.
Ronaldo and Adebayor continued to torment on the break, though Di Maria was sent off right at the end for a second yellow, cynically bringing down Messi to stop one last roll of the dice.
While Di Maria could easily have been the third Real player given two cautions in the game, Mourinho’s aggressive tactics proved more lion-esque than the ‘mice’-like ways of Saturday’s 1-1 draw, and it had brought him his first silverware as Madrid boss in the process.
It was also captain Casillas’ first Copa del Rey and the last piece of his silverware jigsaw, one that has been a long time in the waiting.
With a two-legged Champions League war of attrition kicking off in a week, too, Barcelona face an uphill struggle psychologically to make the final at Wembley.
Follow live text commentary on these games this weekend:†Valencia v Real Madrid; Barcelona v Osasuna; Atletico Madrid v Levante; Sevilla v Villarreal