FC Barcelona were made to work for their place in the 2014 Copa Catalunya final, as Segunda Division strugglers Girona CF twice came from behind to tie the Blaugrana, eventually succumbing to pressure and bowing to a 3-2 defeat in front of their home crowd. Isaac Cuenca got a goal on his return from injury, while David Babunski and Ilie too got their names on the scoresheet. RCD Espanyol’s 2-1 win against Sabadell earlier in the evening sets up a traditional derby clash in next week’s final – and a repeat of last season’s crowning game.
Even before kick-off, there was drama in Girona as starting goalkeeper Miguel Bañuz signalled to the medical staff that he would not be able to start the match as planned. In his place, Adrian Ortola stepped in, with Barcelona fielding something of an experimental line-up. Ilie was in the centre of defense, there were a few Juvenil A players thrown into the mix – it was tough to know what to expect from the match, although of course one thing would remain constant: the Barcelona style.
Regardless of the personnel, it was the same old 4-3-3. The same old passing game, the same old desire to win. This might not be La Liga, the Segunda Division or even the Copa del Rey, but Barça wanted the win all the same.
And in the early stages of the match we were making all the right moves. There were positive moments from Jean-Marie Dongou, intelligent ball retention from the midfield and a few early touches for the returning Isaac Cuenca. Elohor Godswill was marauding up and down the right flank, providing an option on the overlap while the late runs of David Babunski nearly created the game’s first goal.
Arriving late in the box, the Macedonian international got on the end of a low cross and took a shot at goal forcing a great save from the Girona goalkeeper. Next time, the Girona defense wouldn’t be so lucky.
Some smart play from Dongou saw the Cameroonian striker trick the Girona defense with a deft drop of the shoulder – a sign that the defense took to suggest that a shot was incoming. It wasn’t – Dongou played an excellent disguised reverse through ball instead and who else would benefit but David Babunski? This time, he made no mistake with the finish and just shy of the 20 minute mark, FC Barcelona had their first goal.
The hosts attempted to fight back, registering arguably their best spell of pressure in immediate response to the Barça opener, although that pressure was brought to an abrupt end as Godswill was forced off through injury. Patric was his replacement, and with that substitution, Barça regained the ball and regained control of proceedings.
It seemed like a matter of time before the second goal would come. Franck Bagnack challenged the goalkeeper for a header after a teasing corner kick and nearly emerged victorious – eventually heading well over the crossbar. Girona were threatening – but only from long-range. That isn’t usually an issue, though on this occasion, it created the equaliser as Chando one-upped his colleague Felipe who had gone close just moments earlier to pick out the bottom corner of Ortola’s goal from the edge of the area.
It was against the run of play, but Girona were level – and they very nearly took the lead before half-time as well, forcing an instinctive save from Ortola at his near post. Barça needed to get back into the game, get back into rhythm – to their credit they did just that, albeit with some help from the Girona defense again. Gifting the Blaugrana with the ball from a throw-in, Cuenca nearly made the hosts pay for their carelessness rounding the goalkeeper, but dragging his shot wide of the post.
Consequently, Girona and FC Barcelona were tied at 1-1 headed into the break but with 45 minutes remaining, it was all left to play for.
Neither manager opted to make a change at the break, which was perhaps a little surprising from a Barcelona perspective. As the first half progressed, we seemed to get progressively "worse", a change or two could have freshened things up a little. Alas, Eusebio stuck with what we had out on the field.
Not for long though. 12 minutes into the second half and he made a double change – bringing on Adama Traore and Javi Espinosa for Jean-Marie Dongou and Denis Suarez respectively. Isaac Cuenca appeared to move into the centre of attack, with Adama on the right, Nieto remaining on the left and with Espinosa replacing Suarez in a like for like swap in the middle of the park.
Barça improved almost immediately. Dani Nieto wasted a good chance to put the Blaugrana ahead before Isaac Cuenca nearly dribbled round the entire Girona defense to try his hand at scoring the team’s second goal of the night. It wouldn’t be long before he did however – javi Espinosa dazzled the crowd with great close control and drew the challenge of the Girona defense, earning a penalty which the returning Cuenca dispatched with icy composure.
The lead didn’t last for long though. Girona fought back and again it was Chando who was on hand to deliver the coup de grace. Rising above Franck Bagnack, the veteran striker headed the ball back across goal and into the far corner of the net. It was another great equaliser and once again, Barça had a game on their hands.
Cue another double change from Eusebio – Munir El Haddadi and Wilfrid Kaptoum were readied and brought on in place of Isaac Cuenca and David Babunski respectively. Two more like-for-like changes; would they be the spark behind a third Barcelona goal?
They should have been. Kaptoum played the pass of the match to split the Girona defense and play Munir clean through on goal, but in an uncharacteristic fashion, Munir fluffed his lines in front of goal. The finish was sloppy, lazy even, and Girona cleared the danger for a corner. Or at least they thought they did. It’s only Barcelona, what’s the worst that could happen?
Well, as it turns out, we still score from the occasional corner and today was one such occasion. Ilie may not be a centre-half by trade, but he looked like one here, leaping above his man to head home Barcelona’s third of the evening.
Roger Riera replaced Bagnack soon afterwards as Eusebio looked to shore up his shaky defense and close out the game. Girona still pressed forward in search of an unlikely third equaliser of the night – but in the closing stages it was FC Barcelona who seemed more likely to grab another goal. Indeed, they probably should have but Wilfrid Kaptoum displayed his inexperience to blaze over from close range when presented with an opportunity to secure the win.
Still, a win is a win and Barcelona will be pleased that they can contest the final against city rivals Espanyol next week. But first they have more important business to attend to – like winning La Liga. Until then, Visca el Barça!
|Roll Call Info|
|Commenter list||Anders Thomassen, Arron Duckling, BartraFTW, Bostjan Cernensek, FCB4Ever, NoImagination90, Richzorz, Ruy Diaz, Shaquille421, Uncharted_Almo, craig00000, ebieymjunior, footballfordoze, misba786bashir, pogis1991, thriller08|
- Copa Catalunya: Girona vs FC Barcelona: Live Game Thread
- FC Barcelona News: 13 May 2014; Seven Barca Players Included in Spain World Cup Squad, Copa Catalunya Squad Announced
- 2014 Copa Catalunya: FC Barcelona vs Girona CF: Match Preview
- Report: Xavi offered by agents to Premier League teams
- FC Barcelona News: 12 May 2014; La Liga To Be Decided in Head to Head Match Between FC Barcelona and Atlético Madrid