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SEVILLE, Spain, April 18, (AP): Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 4-0 to win the Copa del Rey final, giving Ronald Koeman his first title as coach of the Catalan club. Messi’s two goals came after Antoine Griezmann finally beat Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simón with the opener on the hour-mark. Frenkie de Jong headed in a second goal in the 63rd before Messi dealt a double blow to put the result beyond any doubt by the 72nd. It is Barcelona’s first title since winning the Spanish league in 2019. Koeman, a former Barcelona defender, returned to coach the club last summer after Barcelona finished last season without a title for the first time since 2008. Barcelona’s record 31st cup comes at a crucial junction for Barcelona and Messi.
Barcelona have seen their finances badly damaged by the pandemic and their former president Josep Bartomeu was forced to resign after the team’s poor performance last season and alleged administrative irregularities. Bartomeu has denied any wrongdoing. But the peak of the club’s crisis came last summer when Messi said that he wanted to put an end to his highly successful two decades with Barcelona. Since then, he has only said he will make a decision when his contract is up at the end of this season.
Messi did not mention his plans after the game. He smiled broadly when he received the trophy from Spain’s King Felipe VI, one of the few dignitaries along with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in attendance at a stadium closed to fans due to coronavirus restrictions. “This is a very special cup for me to lift (as captain),” Messi said. “It is too bad we cannot celebrate it with our family and fans. But that is the situation we have to accept.” Even though Messi avoided the burning question of his future, his performance will raise hopes for Barcelona fans of the soccer great staying at Camp Nou.
And for Joan Laporta, who returned to the club’s presidency last month, Messi should have an easy choice ahead of him. “Leo is the best player in the world, Leo has deep roots in this club, and I am convinced that he wants to stay,” Laporta said. “We will do all we can for him to stay with us. That is what we most want. And today Messi gave a master class of soccer while being supported by a great team.” Bilbao has now lost two Copa del Rey finals this month at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville. Bilbao lost 1-0 to Real Sociedad just two weeks ago when they met in the 2020 final that had been postponed due to the pandemic. Sociedad’s reign as Copa champion lasted all of 14 days.