Gerard Pique and Gerardo Martino both played down the potentially explosive impact of another ‘Copa clasico’ final after Barcelona’s 1-1 semifinal second leg draw at Real Sociedad sent the Catalan side through 3-1 on aggregate to meet Real Madrid in this season’s Copa del Rey decider.
The “storm of clasicos” in 2011 saw the rivalry between the two reach a nadir. With Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola on the benches, Madrid won a scrappy Copa del Rey final at the Mestalla through a Cristiano Ronaldo header, but Barca won La Liga and progressed to the Champions League final after two controversial semifinal games -- leading to Mourinho claiming a conspiracy reaching as far as UNICEF had denied his side.
This year’s Copa final is set to return to Valencia, and to be played in April, on either Friday 18 or Saturday 19. This has set up the chance of another set of high profile meetings between Spain’s big two, with the teams facing off in La Liga at the Bernabeu on March 22, and Champions League quarterfinal or semifinal clashes a possibility around the same time.
Pique told AS after Wednesday night’s game at Anoeta that there was less noise around clasicos now than a few years ago.
“I am sure that the final against Real Madrid will be less heated than the one we played at the Mestalla in 2011,” Pique said. “It will be a very nice final, hard-fought, between two teams which are historic rivals. We will try to win it, unlike that year, because finals are for the winning. The most important thing is that we’ve qualified, it will be a very good match.”
Blaugrana coach Martino also told his postmatch news conference that it was a bit early to start building the hype around a game which is still over two months down the line, while suggesting that it would have been disastrous for Barca to have not made the final given Madrid had qualified.
“I stay away from talking about things that are far away,” Martino said. “It is a clasico, that says everything. The objective was to reach the final. Madrid were in the final, and we were obliged to get there too.
“We could not miss out on this date. It is difficult to make a big evaluation when there are still two months left before it. Who knows how we will be after two months. Teams vary from week to week.”
Martino had for once named all his Spain international midfielders -- Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas -- in the starting XI, with the team moving the ball very attractively at times, and pundits immediately calling for a similar team to start next Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg at Manchester City.
"We decided to put them all together to have more long spells of possession, to take away Real Sociedad’s rhythm,” Martino explained. “With Andres and with Cesc we had spoken about one playing in the centre, and one wide. With freedom, but one of the two had to defend their full-back.”