tired of the drama

KEY PLAYER: Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o. 20/06/2007. Pic. Lefty Shivambu. © Gallo Images.
KEY PLAYER: Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o. 20/06/2007. Pic. Lefty Shivambu. © Gallo Images.

MADRID - Barcelona hope today's Copa del Rey final against underdogs Athletic Bilbao at Mestalla Stadium runs more smoothly than their recent games as they bid to win the trophy for a record 25th time.

MADRID - Barcelona hope today's Copa del Rey final against underdogs Athletic Bilbao at Mestalla Stadium runs more smoothly than their recent games as they bid to win the trophy for a record 25th time.

The Catalan team, which last won Spain's knockout competition 11 years ago at the same Valencia venue, has endured some high drama in an attempt to become the first Spanish team to win the league, cup and Champions League in a single season.

Last Wednesday, Andres Iniesta's injury-time goal earned Barcelona a 1-1 draw at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge and passage into the Champions League final.

Four days later, Barcelona came within three minutes of winning the Spanish league title at its Camp Nou stadium only for Villarreal to equalise in a 3-3 draw that keeps coach Pep Guardiola's team waiting for at least another week.

Guardiola hopes victory against Bilbao will help banish the memory of Sunday's disappointment and act as the prelude to title celebrations next weekend, setting up the season's finale when they play Manchester United in Rome on May 27.

Barcelona's situation contrasts greatly with that of Bilbao, who haven't won any major silverware since they won the Copa del Rey by beating Barcelona 1-0 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium 25 years ago.

But Bilbao remain one of Spain's most successful teams and will be bidding to win the Copa del Rey for the 24th time, level with Barcelona.

The Basque team would even consider a triumph as its 25th in Spain's knockout competition as it also claims the very first Copa del Rey in 1902, won by Vizcaya, a representative team comprising some Bilbao players.

A Bilbao win would represent a triumph for their policy of selecting Basque-born players, the only exceptions being players from the bordering region of Navarre or those who have passed through their junior teams.

Barcelona have been hit by injuries and will be without Iniesta, striker Thierry Henry and defenders Rafael Marquez and Gabi Milito. - Sapa-AP

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