Football

Barcelona never gave up on the cup: Ronald Koeman

Catalan side seal final berth after latest in series of Copa del Rey comebacks

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman praised his side for their never-say-die attitude after they reached the Copa del Rey final with a 3-0 win over Sevilla after extra-time yesterday morning (Singapore time) to pull off the latest in a series of great turnarounds in the competition.

The result comes just two days after a police raid on the club and the arrest of former president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Barca lost the first leg 2-0 but Ousmane Dembele's thumping early strike put them ahead at the Nou Camp before Gerard Pique headed home in added time to level the tie, after Sevilla's Lucas Ocampos had missed a penalty.

Martin Braithwaite's extra-time header, which came either side of red cards for Sevilla's Fernando and Luuk de Jong, completed a 3-2 aggregate win and continued a remarkable journey in this year's tournament.

Barca needed extra-time to knock out third division Cornella 2-0 and came from behind to beat second division Rayo Vallecano 2-1.

They were 2-0 down at Granada until the 88th minute in the quarter-finals, but levelled with two late goals before winning 5-3 after extra-time.

"We always believed, we have never thrown this cup away," Koeman told reporters.

"It's a question of mentality, and as a coach, I can't ask for any more from my team than what I saw tonight.

"We kept on fighting in extra-time, it was incredible. I'm very satisfied with how hard we worked tonight. We deserved the win."

Unlike previous coaches, Koeman has prioritised the Copa del Rey and rested players in league matches to keep them fresh for cup games, saying the competition was Barca's best chance of a trophy due to Atletico Madrid's dominance in La Liga and the fierce competition in the Champions League.

"I'm very proud. It's an important moment for the team and for me. Because if you win a game like this, you are seen as a good coach, but if you lose, you are seen as very bad," he added.

"This team is very strong physically and mentally. We can't always play great football but, if you have the ball, you can always create opportunities. What we did tonight was something extraordinary."

His opposite number Julen Lopetegui, meanwhile, lamented their fate.

He told Spanish media: "We've witnessed the cruelest side of football in tonight's game.

"We end up a man down and they also should have had a player sent off. It's a shame. A lot went against us, players injured, conceding with the first shot on target."

Sevilla midfielder Joan Jordan added: "We had the tie there with the penalty. If we score that, there's no f***ing way they put three more past us. Then they get the second goal, prior to that Fernando's sent off.

"I respect the referee but he doesn't show (Barca defender Oscar) Mingueza a second yellow card." - REUTERS, AFP

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