Espanyol crush Zaragoza to win Cup final
MADRID, April 12 (Reuters) - Espanyol put aside relegation worries to clinch a scintillating 4-1 win over favourites Real Zaragoza in the King's Cup final at the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Midfielder Ivan de la Pena masterminded the victory for the Primera Liga strugglers by setting up three goals, while striker Luis Garcia weighed in with a classy double.
It was the fourth time the Barcelona-based club had won the knockout competition, their last victory coming six years ago against Atletico Madrid.
The victory sparked wild celebrations from the assembled Espanyol fans who have spent much of the season worrying about the threat of losing their top flight status.
'I've spent over 40 years dreaming about a trophy that captured my imagination when I was a young Athletic Bilbao fan,' said Espanyol coach Miguel Angel Lotina.
'At last I've got the Cup I've wanted so much.'
For Zaragoza, who were reduced to 10 men in the final 20 minutes after keeper Cesar was sent off, it was a disappointing end after their team had promised so much by eliminating Barcelona and Real Madrid in earlier rounds.
The teams were given an ear-splitting reception from the 70,000 fans who had converged on the Bernabeu and they responded with a suitably high-decibel start.
Zaragoza midfielder Oscar enjoyed the first chance after just 30 seconds when Ewerthon picked him out with a neat through-pass in the area, but he sent his shot into the arms of keeper Carlos Kameni.
Less than a minute later Espanyol snatched the lead after they were awarded a free kick in a central position some 25 metres from the goal.
De la Pena slammed a fierce dipping shot onto the crossbar and skipper Raul Tamudo reacted sharply to head the rebound low past Cesar.
Tamudo also grabbed an early goal the last time Espanyol won the Cup in 2000, when he scored the opener in their 2-1 victory over Atletico.
Zaragoza appeared unnerved by the early setback, but with midfielder Cani at the helm they gradually settled into their rhythm and started creating more danger around the Espanyol area.
The equaliser came just before the half hour with Ewerthon scoring his eighth goal in the competition in a goalmouth scramble after Oscar had headed an Albert Celades free kick back across the area.
But Espanyol, who knocked out Getafe, Cadiz and Deportivo Coruna on their way to the final, took just four minutes to restore their lead.
Once again it was the outstanding De la Pena who had a hand in the goal, this time when he released Tamudo with an excellent ball down the left.
The Espanyol skipper swept a perfectly weighted cross into the area and Luis Garcia got between the two Zaragoza centre-backs to bury a powerful header past Cesar and make it 2-1.
Zaragoza took the game to Espanyol in the second half and Kameni was given several scares as Cani pumped a stream of dangerous crosses into the area.
But Espanyol centre-backs Albert Lopo and Daniel Jarque were outstanding as they kept Zaragoza's potent strike force of Ewerthon and Diego Milito at bay.
Zaragoza's hopes of turning the game around were ended when Cesar earned himself a second booking after he lost his cool and threw a flag back into the crowd.
It was an ignominious end to a third Cup final defeat for the keeper who was on the losing side when he played for Real Madrid in the 2002 and 2004 finals.
A minute later midfielder Ferran Corominas raced on to a first-time pass from De la Pena and finished off with a cool shot underneath substitute keeper Raul Valbuena.
Luis Garcia compounded Zaragoza's misery with a low drive from the edge of the area four minutes from time.