Sport Soccer

Thursday 22 February 2018

Ronaldo's extra-time header brings Madrid's three-year trophy drought to end

Real Madrid 1
Barcelona 0
Copa del Rey final (AET)

Real Madrid's captain Iker Casillas raises the trophy. Photo: Reuters
Real Madrid's captain Iker Casillas raises the trophy. Photo: Reuters

Paul Logothetis

A stunning Cristiano Ronaldo header in the first half of extra-time was enough to secure Jose Mourinho's first trophy for Real Madrid in last night's Copa del Rey final in Valencia.

Ronaldo guided Angel di Maria's 103rd-minute cross back across goal and past the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto into the top corner as Madrid won silverware for the first time since a 2008 Spanish league title.

Madrid dominated the first half and relied on 'keeper Iker Casillas' second-half stops as Barcelona took control after the restart in an electric atmosphere at the Mestalla Stadium. Madrid's 18th domestic Cup also ends a six-game winless run against Barcelona, who lost for only the 10th time in their 35th final appearance.

Real relied on Mourinho's counter-attacking approach but the victory will be a huge psychological lift ahead of the two-legged Champions League semi-final on April 27 and May 3.

After Saturday's 1-1 league draw in the Bernabeu, where Raul Albiol was sent off for rugby tackling David Villa, the Madrid boss had expressed his desire to face the Catalan giants with 11 men -- and they almost did until the 120th minute when Di Maria was sent off for a second yellow after taking down Lionel Messi.

Real carved out the best two chances of the opening 45 minutes. In the 36th minute, Mesut Ozil sent Ronaldo down the right and Pinto did well to block his low shot. Three minutes later Pepe climbed high at the far post to meet Ozil's cross from the right only for his header to cannon off the upright.

Barcelona stepped up a gear in the second half and were unfortunate not to take the lead in the 67th minute when Messi threaded a ball through the Real defence for Pedro to fire past Casillas but the striker was offside.

Messi finally sprang into life and the Argentine drew a good save from Casillas after being set up by Dani Alves. The Real 'keeper then clawed away a curling effort from Pedro. With 10 minutes to go, Casillas fingertipped a shot from Andres Iniesta -- who learnt yesterday he would not be suspended for the first leg of the Champions League semi-final next week -- around his post. With Barcelona dominating, Madrid nearly scored an injury-time winner but Pinto -- usually a back-up except for cup games -- tipped Di Maria's rising shot over the bar.

In extra-time Di Maria, however, laid Ronaldo's winner on a plate to end a spell of almost three years without a trophy.

Irish Independent

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