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Barça take first step in treble bid

Not content with his first title as FC Barcelona coach following a 4-1 victory against Athletic Club Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final, Josep Guardiola has set the target of a treble for his “tired” players by the end of the month.

Athletic won their last piece of silverware by beating Barça 1-0 in the King’s Cup 25 years ago and their supporters were dreaming of a similar outcome when Gaizka Toquero rose at the far post to head Francisco Yeste’s corner past José Pinto eight minutes in. Soon after, Bojan Krkić advanced into the Athletic penalty area and shot straight at Gorka Iraizoz, the first of two saves in quick succession from the goalkeeper, who also beat out an effort from Samuel Eto’o.

Chosen as a makeshift defender for Barcelona’s recent UEFA Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, Yaya Touré was again fielded in the back four but it did not curb his attacking enthusiasm, the Ivorian equalising after half an hour when he fired in from long-range shot. “Our idea was to move the ball about as quickly as possible before they had a chance to dispossess us, especially as we knew they would come at us aggressively from the kick-off,” said Guardiola. “We arrived here very tired but the players worked hard after going behind.”

By the start of the second half Barcelona were in full flow, Lionel Messi looking to find his range with two efforts on the Athletic goal and ten minutes in, his third attempt found the back of the net after Iraizoz had palmed Eto’o’s effort into the path of the Argentinian. Just three minutes later it was 3-1 with Bojan finishing off a counterattack by calmly sliding the ball in from just inside the area. The Liga leaders’ 25th Copa del Rey triumph − and first for eleven years − was rubber-stamped when Xavi Hernández fired a free-kick in off the upright after 65 minutes.

Guardiola has received high praise for leading his side to victory in what the club hope will be a Liga, UEFA Champions League and Copa del Rey treble. Asked about his rapid progression as a coach, ‘Pep’ preferred to heap praise on his players and look to the challenges ahead. “We’re lucky we have players of such high quality who can put into practice the ideas of any manager,” he said. “We’ve got the first trophy and now it’s time to go for the second. We want to gain the point we need in order to win Liga and then we can look forward to preparing for the final of the Champions League.”