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Messi magic inspires Barça to retain Copa del Rey

A Lionel Messi masterclass salvaged some silverware to end Barcelona's season and gave coach Luis Enrique a victorious send-off as the Catalans retained the Copa del Rey with a 3-1 win over Deportivo Alavés on Saturday.

Messi magic inspires Barça to retain Copa del Rey

Messi opened the scoring then helped tee up Neymar and Paco Alcacer to lead Barça to a record 29th Cup triumph after Theo Hernandez's brilliant free-kick had briefly brought Alaves level.

Victory means Enrique bows out after three seasons in charge with nine trophies to his name, including the Cup in every year of his reign.

However, once again it was Messi who inspired Barça to bounce back from the disappointment of losing their La Liga title to Real Madrid last weekend with a stunning individual display.

READ ALSO: In pics: Celebrations as Real Madrid win title

“He is extraordinary, an extraterrestrial,” said Enrique of Messi after he lifted his 30th trophy at Barça a month ahead of his 30th birthday.

“I have had the opportunity to enjoy the best of Messi, at his peak athletic performance.

“He is the number one as he shows in his performances and it has been a true pleasure.”

Alaves boss Mauricio Pellegrino was equally in awe of the five-time World Player of the Year.

“He is an out of the ordinary player,” said Pellegrino.

“He has the ability to create goals as well as score them with the precision of his passing.”


Lionel Messi takes on Deportivo Alaves defender Zouhair Feddal during the Copa del Rey final. Photo: AFP 

In stark contrast to Barça's glorious run of six finals in seven years, Alaves were appearing in Spanish football's showpiece for the first time.

The Basques were roared on by the more enthusiastic support at a far from full Vicente Calderon in its last competitive fixture before Atletico Madrid move home next season.

READ ALSO: Mixed emotions as Atletico Madrid says adios to Vicente Calderón stadium

And Alaves were left wondering what might have been had they gone ahead when Ibai Gomez's effort came back off the post, ricocheted off the back of Barça 'keeper Jasper Cillessen but somehow squirmed along the goal line and not into the net on 27 minutes.

Three minutes later Messi kicked off a thrilling four-goal spell in the final 15 minutes of the half as he exchanged passes with Neymar before curling his 54th goal of the season.

Barça's initial lead only lasted three minutes.

On-loan Atletico Madrid left-back Hernandez has been courted by Barcelona, but looks set to become the first player to cross the Madrid divide since 2000 by signing for Real Madrid in the coming weeks.

And the 19-year-old showed why he is in such demand by bending a sumptuous free-kick into the top corner.

Messi saw a free-kick of his own beaten away by Fernando Pacheco, whilst Ivan Rakitic drilled a low shot just wide as Barça immediately reacted to conceding.

Fittingly, Messi was involved once more when Barça did regain the lead as he received Neymar's pass before playing in Gomes and the Portuguese's low cross was tapped home by Neymar at the back post as he scored for the third consecutive season in the Cup final.

Barça then put the game to bed in first-half stoppage time when Messi again pulled the Alaves defence apart and his reverse pass freed Alcacer to smash the ball beyond Pacheco into the far corner.

Victory saw Enrique seal a ninth title of a largely successful three-year spell in charge despite missing out on La Liga and the Champions League this season.

However, he insisted he had no regrets over his decision to not renew his expiring contract after being worn down by the pressures that come with being Barça boss.

“I am the one who decided it was best to stop and it has worked out perfectly.

“I think it has for the players too. As I understand this profession it is of the highest demands with a daily grind.

“We would have liked to have won La Liga again and be taking part in the Champions League final, but it wasn't to be and I think the fans are aware of the effort and the sacrifice of the players.”

Alaves coach Mauricio Pellegrino hailed his players' efforts after an excellent season in which they also finished ninth in La Liga on their return to the top flight.

“I have a contradictory feeling given the disappointment of the result given the desire we had to do something more, and also the feeling of thanks to the players not only for what they did today but during the whole year,” said the Argentine.

“My plan was to get to the end of the game still with a chance and that third goal was the one that changed the result, but not the spirit of the players which is why I feel so proud of them.”

FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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