The figure just keeps on rising. Barcelona reached the Copa del Rey final with a 2-0 victory over Valencia at the Camp Nou – their third Spanish Cup final in four seasons under Pep Guardiola. It is their 12th final overall. And although there were occasional nerves and Valencia had chances and were not finally defeated until Xavi Hernández's goal 15 minutes from the end, ultimately Barcelona progressed smoothly 2-0 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate. "We played against the best team in the world," said Unai Emery.
The best player, too. He was denied a goal of his own, but Leo Messi added a new, as yet rarely seen weapon to his arsenal to give Barcelona the lead after 15 minutes. A 40-yard pass from just inside his own half to just outside the Valencia penalty area swung perfectly into the path of Cesc Fábregas, dashing into the space behind the Valencia defence. The ball bounced up and through and, with Diego Alves doubting whether to advance or retreat, Fábregas eased it over him and into the net. The game was quarter of an hour old; it was different now too.
Valencia had started brightly, pushing the home side back, but Barcelona had taken the lead with their first shot. Messi was soon doing something more familiar, robbing the ball from Adil Rami and sprinting through the middle. His shot came back off Alves and Isaac Cuenca put the rebound wide. Then his low shot from a free-kick was pushed away by Alves. The free-kick had come after Barcelona worked the ball out of the tightest of midfield corners, Xavi, Messi, and Thiago Alcântara ping-ping-pinging their way to freedom.
The control was absolute. To coin a Spanish phrase, Barcelona played sin prisa pero sin pausa: with no haste, but with no letup either. They did not so much pour forward looking for goals as slip into chances. Alexis Sánchez and Fábregas, twice, had opportunities. When Sofiane Feghouli chased down Gerard Piqué only for Barcelona to work the ball beyond him, he turned to his team-mates as I to say: "What am I supposed to do?" He spoke for them all.
The good news for Valencia was that Barcelona had only got one. Even in the first leg of this tie, which finished 1-1, they had opportunities to secure their passage and here there was a repeat of that. The risk always remains and in the first minute of the second half Barcelona were grateful to José Pinto for a save from Jordi Alba. When the cross was swung back in from the left, he saved again – this time from Aritz Aduriz.
Possession was Barcelona's, most of the chances too, but there was more intent about Valencia now: the hint of a threat felt more real than it had before. Javier Mascherano headed away Aduriz's lob over Pinto, Carles Puyol leapt acrobatically to stop Alba sprinting on to another ball and Eric Abidal was alert to get ahead of Feghouli. From the corner, Pinto pushed over Jonas's rising shot. The feeling was fleeting, though: Barcelona continued to have the better opportunities. Messi's face after one shot slipped wide spoke of disbelief.
Soon after, Feghouli caught Puyol in the face as he closed the defender down and received his second yellow. "The decision," conceded Emery, "was right." The task had become harder yet. There was a chance for Aduriz, but he slipped, and almost immediately Xavi ended it. Messi found Sanchéz on the left. He resisted the challenge from Jérémy Mathieu, turned and laid the ball into the path of Fábregas who opened out his body to help it a little further on its way. Xavi hit the ball hard and true into the top corner. Think Shearer against Holland in 1996. Think another final for Barcelona. Twelve and counting.