Valencia have secured a place in the Copa del Rey final after a thrilling 3-2 win over Barcelona at the Mestalla this evening. The home side finished 4-3 aggregate winners and will play Getafe in the April final of Spain's domestic cup competition.
The semi-final was finely balanced at 1-1 going into the second leg and from the kick off this evening it was an under fire Valencia that looked the hungrier of the two sides. Ruben Baraja gave the home side a deserved lead after 17 minutes before Juan Mata added a second just before the interval.
Frank Rijkaard will be under intense scrutiny for his decision to start the match with Thierry Henry on the substitutes bench. The Barcelona coach's critics will feel that the Henry's impact following his introduction and his goal on 72 minutes is proof that Rijkaard got it badly wrong on the night. Just as it looked as if Barcelona were back in the match with the score at 2-1, Mata scored again minutes later to restore Valencia's two-goal advantage.
Barcelona upped the tempo and threw caution to the wind as they pressed to forward to salvage the tie. An 80th minute goal from Samuel Eto'o set up a thrilling final ten minutes but Valencia clung on to secure a 4-3 aggregate win and a place in the final.
Ronald Koeman took his seat in the dugout at the start of the match to the sound of derision from the home supporters who are growing increasingly alarmed at Valencia's decline in La Liga. The jeers turned to cheers at the end of the match; but while the cup provides a welcome distraction from Valencia's troubled season, it may still prove to be little consolation to those who will assess Koeman's position at the end of the season and his future remains uncertain.
At least for tonight, the Valencia fans went home happy and as Koeman said after the match: "Our supporters deserve a night of celebration because they have suffered a lot lately and their delight shows that."
The Valencia coach added "Football brings some inexplicable things at times and this is one of them."
Frank Rijkaard, on the other hand, will certainly have some explaining to do when he faces the Catalan press this week. The Barcelona coach has been under intense media scrutiny lately as the local press question his ability to motivate and maintain discipline within the Barcelona dressing room. The Copa Del Rey was meant to provide an opportunity to prove his doubters wrong and for the player sto demonstrate that they still have the hunger for success.
Rijkaard said after the match "I don't think the team can be accused of not trying as were better than Valencia, but we did concede some easy goals. I am proud of the way the players worked and it is a difficult time for them."
The Barcelona coach appeared uncomfortable in the post match press conference and he is no doubt aware of the fierce media backlash that will inevitably follow this defeat. Rijkaard said "There are those that will want to look for someone to blame, but they can blame me as I am the coach."