Di Maria & Bale Steal the Copa del Rey Show as Messi Goes M.I.A.
FC Barcelona let the Copa del Rey escape from their hands as Gareth Bale imposed himself to score the game-winning goal in the culminating moments of Real Madrid's 2-1 victory at the Mestalla Stadium. Angel di Maria and Bale stole the show in a match where Lionel Messi had the same impact on the field as the injured Cristiano Ronaldo that was left off the roster.
As the action was barely getting on its way, referee Mateu Lahoz was eager to set his foot down and booked Isco for a foul on Neymar in the middle of the field. Lahoz would go on to become a protagonist of the match with several questionable decisions and slowing game-play with unnecessary lectures.
Both squads had a similar plan from the get-go, closing every space available and making it a gridlock encounter that only a defensive mistake would allow for a goal to be celebrated. Jordi Alba was the first to get a shot off but was unable to make a difference early on into his notably outstanding, yet fluctuate first half performance.
Gareth Bale replied with a pair of dangerous shots before Angel di Maria broke the deadlock in the 10th minute of play. After Dani Alves lost possession in the midfield, Benzema received the ball from Bale and proceeded to assist Di Maria, who ended the counterattack with an excellent strike.
Di Maria finished his amazing run with a shot through Alba's legs but it was the Argentine's brilliant pump fake that left the Catalan defender exposed. Jose Manuel Pinto managed to get his hand on the ball but could have done a lot more to stop the ball from eventually kissing the post and burying itself in the net.
Barcelona quickly attempted to come back into the match and score, playing the possession game to reach Real Madrid's area but couldn't get any important shots on goal. Barca was becoming desperate, resorting to diving that eventually led to a minor discussion between Neymar and a couple of Madrid defenders.
Fabio Coentrao was accusing Neymar of diving inside the area and the Brazilian retaliated to his insults with a minor headbutt. Pepe quickly intervened by grabbing Neymar's neck in search of aiding his Portuguese compatriot, and the small discussion turned to a full blown altercation that resulted in both Pepe and Neymar being booked.
Carlo Ancelotti's men had little success in retaining the ball throughout the first and it allowed for the "Cules" to cause some chances that were eventually poorly executed. Neymar and Jordi Alba both had a few unsuccessful attempts at goal, as Lionel Messi was missing in action.
When Messi finally appeared in the build-up play with a couple weak shots, Alba stayed back and denied Isco from doubling the score with a fine slide in the area that cut the incoming goal. The Argentine had his clearest chances at the end of the first half but wasted a shot following Andres Iniesta's genius individual play and another after Fabregas gave "La Pulga" a great chip pass into the area.
Di Maria finished his man of the match performance in the first half with an assist to Karim Benzema but the Frenchman couldn't get a good enough touch on the ball due to Sergio Busquet's near interception. Despite Alba being the best man for the "Blaugranas" in the first 45 minutes, he was subbed out at the half and Gerardo Martino brought Adrian in to replace him.
"Los Blancos" started the final 45 minutes with more aggression and initiative than the Catalan squad, with Bale nearly piercing the net while FCB only managed another yellow card; this time for Javier Mascherano's foul on Pepe.
Twenty minutes into the complementary part of the match, Pinto had an important intervention that eventually led to the ball ending up inside his goal. However, the referee disallowed Bale's header off a corner due to a foul on Pinto, and Barcelona instantly replied with a sensational goal.
Marc Bartra scored the equalizer with a cracking header after Xavi placed the ball in the middle of the area via corner-kick. There was nothing that Iker Casillas could do to stop the goal despite his superb Superman dive to try and reach the ball.
Five minutes before the 90th minute, Gareth Bale scored a goal worth every penny that Real Madrid paid for him, showcasing Bartra's inexperience by easily beating him in speed, strength and agility. Bale made a run from the middle of the field to be face-to face against Pinto and scored with a nutmeg on Barca's second-string goalkeeper.
Neymar nearly had the second equalizer of the match but his powerful shot struck Casillas' post and the rebound landed nicely in the keeper's arms. The 2-1 Copa del Rey Final defeat now leaves Barcelona with little to no chance of obtaining a single title this season, as they've been eliminated from the UEFA Champions League and the domestic competition looks tougher than ever.