Lionel Messi scored two goals, including a fantastic solo goal, when Barcelona blew away Athletic Bilbao to win the Copa del Rey on Saturday and handed over their opponents to a second final defeat in two weeks.
The cup was won and lost in a whirlwind for 12 minutes in Sevilla, where Barca scored four times to win an emphatic 4-0 victory, with Messi at their devastating best.
It remains to be seen if his seventh Copa del Rey triumph is the last trophy Messi lifts in Barcelona colors, but if this were to be a final flowering, the 33-year-old created a fitting farewell.
“It is very special to be captain of this team where I have spent my whole life and very special to be able to lift this cup,” said Messi.
His first goal, and Barca’s third, started with the Argentine in his own half before a charge on the right and a turn forward in the penalty area gave him the chance for an easy finish.
With the club’s new president Joan Laporta in the audience, Ronald Koeman’s first title as Barcelona coach should also increase his chances of remaining in charge after the summer.
“Winning a title is important to me,” Koeman admitted afterwards.
Still, Laporta was noticeably evasive when asked about Koeman’s future.
“He’s fine,” he said.
Koeman took over a team at the bottom, humiliated by a historic loss to Bayern Munich and hurt by Messi’s attempt to leave the club for free.
But the 31st Copa del Rey success for the club is proof of the progress made and Koeman hopes that it will not only help convince Messi to stay but also give Barca momentum now in a neck-and-neck title race in La Liga .
“Despite the changes in the club and the young players, you always have to fight for trophies at Barca,” said Koeman.
“We have the first one and now we will fight for the last match in La Liga.”
Gerard Pique said it felt like the club had been “restored”.
“Sometimes you fall down and you have to get up,” Pique said. “It has been a difficult year but the team has turned it around.”
Messi was sent off when Athletic Bilbao beat Barcelona, also at La Cartuja, in January to win the Spanish Super Cup but they never looked to make a comeback.
After Athletic lost to their Basque rivals Real Sociedad in last year’s postponed final just two weeks ago, it was always a big issue to rise to another showpiece at the same stadium and against a tougher opponent.
“In both finals, we played far below the level we can,” said athletics coach Marcelino Garcia Toral.
Barcelona were almost ahead after four minutes when Sergio Busquets played for Messi, who rolled back for Frenkie de Jong but his side-footed finish came back from the far post.
Sergino Dest lagged behind while Inigo Martinez had Athletic’s best chance but when he reached for the bouncing ball he could only poke over.
Athletic seemed to have played their way into the match before half-time but Barcelona came out with renewed vigor, with Unai Simon making two brilliant saves to deny Antoine Griezmann and then Busquets, both from close range.
But when the opposition gave way, there was a collapse, with goals scored in the 60th, 63rd, 68th and 72nd minutes to leave Athletic’s hopes.
First, Messi slid in Dest down to the right and his post was deflected by Griezmann before the second came from the opposite flank, Jordi Alba bent in a post for De Jong to nod in.
The third was a spectacular from Messi, who started moving in his own half, skipped one challenge and avoided another.
He took the ball back from Dest and drove down the right edge, away from three opponents and inside.
Messi played twice by De Jong, the second time after driving forward in the penalty area, where he trembled between the last two Athletic defenders and slid goals into the far corner.
His second and Barca’s fourth were more straight forward, Alba pulled a cross back for the Argentine to put in under a weak right hand from Simon and inside the post. For Athletic, there was no going back.