The Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola is predicting a "marvellous" Copa del Rey final after his side and Athletic Bilbao both booked their spots in May's showpiece at Valencia's Mestalla stadium. Barca progressed thanks to a 3-1 aggregate victory over Mallorca in their semi-final, while, in the other, Athletic wiped out a 2-1 first leg deficit against Sevilla with a 3-0 home triumph at San Mames. Those results mean the two most successful sides in Copa del Rey history will compete for this year's trophy, with Barca looking to claim their 25th crown and Athletic their 24th. It will also give both clubs a chance to win the trophy for the first time in quite a while, with Barca's last success coming in 1998 and Athletic's 25 years ago - coincidentally against Barca.
"It will be marvellous, against a great team such as Athletic Bilbao, and in such a nice stadium as Valencia's," said Guardiola. Barca had looked to be in unst-oppable form up until recently, but last night's 1-1 second-leg draw with Mallorca was the Catalans fifth successive match without a win. During that time, Barca have seen their lead in the Primera Liga cut from 12 points to four by Real Madrid, while they were also held 1-1 by Lyon in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
It has been a tough time of late for Barca, but Guardiola hopes that reaching the cup final can give his side a boost. "It's very positive for the squad, it will give us strength," he added. "It's been many years since Barca have been in a final. The fact we've got there suggests we've been doing things well. This will help us as a team to face the other competitions we are competing in." * PA Sport