Monday 16 December 2019

Gary Neville denied Barcelona win as Catalans cruise to Copa del Rey final


Barcelona's players celebrate after scoring during the Spanish Copa del Rey
Barcelona's players celebrate after scoring during the Spanish Copa del Rey

Gary Neville experienced yet more frustration as a late goal from teenager Wilfrid Kaptoum denied Valencia a much-needed win over Barcelona's reserves in the Copa del Rey.

Alvaro Negredo put Neville's team on course for their first win over Barca in eight years with his sixth goal of 2016.

The former Manchester City striker raced on to a long ball from Wilfried Zahibo and beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen at the second attempt after the Barca goalkeeper had blocked his original shot.

Although Valencia were already as good as out after their 7-0 reverse in the first leg of the semi-final, Negredo's goal was a welcome sight for Neville, who fielded a mostly second-string side even though some supporters were calling for his head following a run of nine league games without a win.

There was to be no victory for the former Manchester United captain on Wednesday, though, as substitute Kaptoum stroked the ball home six minutes from time to rewrite the history books as Barca boss Luis Enrique surpassed Pep Guardiola's record of 28 consecutive games without defeat.

Neville can only dream of embarking on such a sequence. He knows failure to record his first league win at the 10th attempt against Espanyol this weekend will lead to more calls for his sacking.

The England coach went into the match having received yet more criticism - this time from former Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo, who said he was "almost happy" Neville was struggling as he felt he was "too harsh as a TV pundit."

The fans voiced their anger at Neville and the players as they arrived on the team bus before kick-off. One held up a placard that read: "Bye bye Gary Neville. Next coach."

Inside a largely empty stadium, Barcelona - who were without Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez - had the first big chance. Munir El Haddadi broke down the right and squared to Sandro Ramirez, but he skied his effort way over the bar.

Enrique's team almost went behind in the 21st minute, however, when Negredo slipped in Pablo Piatti, who sent over a flat cross that would have been turned in had it not been for a crucial intervention from Jeremy Mathieu.

Enrique smashed his water bottle on to the turf when Valencia's Francisco Villalba went close with a curler and a few minutes later the Barca coach vented his anger again as the hosts took the lead.

Negredo raced clear after being played onside by Marc Bartra and although he failed with his first attempt at beat Ter Stegen, the striker did not miss with his second chance, which fell straight at his feet.

Enrique became even angrier when Munir headed over a simple chance from an Adriano free-kick just before the break.

Valencia squandered a great chance to double their lead when Santi Mina shot wide from Piatti's cross at the start of the second period.

After watching the hour mark pass without his team registering a shot on target, Enrique brought on Kaptoum, Juan Camara and Douglas. The move paid off as all three played a part in the equaliser.

Douglas sent Camara down the left and he pulled the ball back for Kaptoum, who rolled the ball in to the net to snatch victory from Neville's grasp.

PA Media

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport