Copa del Rey

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Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

Pique: Copa-losing Barca still ‘really hurting’ from UCL exit

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Barcelona was the favorite to win La Liga, the UEFA Champions League, and the Copa del Rey for the majority of the season, but only claimed one.

Liverpool’s amazing comeback to beat Barca in the second leg of the UCL semifinals met Saturday’s loss to Valencia in the Copa del Rey Final to give Barca a league title alone.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Even with that La Liga advantage being decisive — Barca carried the table by 11 points over Atletico Madrid and finished 19 ahead of Real Madrid — there’s a very dour mood and promised change for the Camp Nou set.

And Gerard Pique says it all traces back to the loss against Liverpool. From The Liverpool Echo:

“I believe that if we had gotten through at Liverpool, we would have won the treble. We would have come here [to the Copa del Rey final] with a different mood, and I’m convinced we would have won the Champions League final, but that is football. We are really, really hurting.”

There are hints of a massive clear-out at Barcelona, with Lionel Messi and Pique two of the only safe bets to stay. When will Barca get over it?

Valencia end Barcelona’s four-year hold on Copa del Rey

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Barcelona’s four-year reign as Copa del Rey holders came to an unceremonious end on Saturday, as Valencia shocked Barcelona in the 2018-19 final in Seville.

[ U-20 WORLD CUP: Ezequiel Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win ]

Saturday’s upset capped off a thoroughly successful 100th season for Valencia, who finished fourth in La Liga — assuring them of a second straight season in the Champions League — and lifted the club’s first major trophy since its last Copa triumph, in 2008.

Barca, on the other hand, must make do with merely winning the league title by 11 points and reaching the Champions League semifinals.

Kevin Gameiro opened the scoring with a powerful strike from the edge of the penalty area in the 21st minute. Jose Gaya’s cross came in from the left and found the Frenchman all by himself with plenty of time for a touch to settle and open up space for the shot.

Rodrigo Moreno doubled Valencia’s lead in the 33rd minute, sending a downward header past Jasper Cillessen after Carlos Soler worked his way around Jordi Alba to deliver a hard-hit ball across the face of goal.

Lionel Messi tapped home an empty-net rebound to pull a goal back for Barcelona in the 73rd minute, but that’s as close as Barca would get to mounting a comeback.

Valencia have now lifted the Copa del Rey on eight occasions (fifth-most all time), but still trail Barca’s record of 30 Copas by some way.

Spain approves changes to Copa del Rey and Super Cup

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer federation approved format changes to the Copa del Rey and the Super Cup on Monday despite opposition from the Spanish league.

The Copa del Rey will be played in single-match series until the semifinals, while the Spanish Super Cup will adopt a “final four” format with the top finishers in the Spanish league and the Copa del Rey.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

The changes are expected to take effect at the beginning of next season, although the Spanish league could still appeal the federation’s decision, which was approved during its general assembly.

The Spanish league voted last week in its own general assembly not to support the changes, saying it should have been directly involved in the discussions.

The federation said the changes will help reduce the number of games for clubs and players.

Federation president Luis Rubiales said last week the entity was considering playing the new Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia, prompting some criticism by human rights groups who have denounced conditions in the Middle East nation.

The competition has been played at the beginning of the season in a one-game final between the Copa del Rey and the league champions. The final four will now be played in January.

Last year’s final, won by Barcelona against Sevilla, was played in Tangier, Morocco.

The Spanish federation also approved changes aimed at giving more visibility and improving women’s soccer. The women’s league will have two divisions and a Super Cup will be created.

The federation said it will take actions to increase the number of professional women’s players and the number of girls involved in the sport.

Solari says Bale, Real Madrid ready for Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Everyone at Real Madrid, it seems, is fully prepared to face Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinals.

Even Gareth Bale.

Bale’s commitment to the team has been called into question since he failed to celebrate his goal over the weekend, pushing teammate Lucas Vazquez away before heading back to midfield. His attitude sparked a wave of criticism, and rumors he was at odds with the rest of the team.

But with two consecutive matches coming up against Barcelona this week — the first on Wednesday with a spot in the Copa del Rey final on the line — Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari was quick to diffuse any notion of problems within the squad.

“We are 100 percent focused on tomorrow’s match,” Solari said Tuesday. “Bale and the rest of the players are fully focused. We are all united and we have the same goal, which is to make it to the final.”

Real Madrid has an away-goal advantage going into the match at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium after a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou in the first leg three weeks ago.

Wednesday’s match will be the second of three between the rivals in less than a month. The teams will meet again at the Bernabeu on Saturday in the Spanish league, where Barcelona has a comfortable seven-point lead over Atletico Madrid and a nine-point advantage over Real Madrid.

Barcelona is the defending league champion, and it will be going for an unprecedented fifth straight Copa del Rey title. Madrid won the league in 2017, but hasn’t won the cup competition since 2014, when it beat Barcelona in the final.

Bale hasn’t played often as a starter with Madrid, losing his place on the lineup to young Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior.

Bale appeared to be upset when Solari chose Marco Asensio as the first substitute in the 2-1 win at Levante on Sunday. After seeing he was not picked, the Wales forward stopped warming up and went back to the bench, staying there for a few minutes until Solari finally asked him to enter the match.

He scored the team’s second goal from a penalty kick and did not celebrate, moving Vazquez away from him and only briefly touching hands with other teammates as he returned to midfield.

The image of Bale “escaping” from Vazquez made it on some front pages in Spain the next day, and forced Solari to evade several questions about him in his news conference on Tuesday.

Veteran left back Marcelo recently had talked about how he still can only communicate with Bale in English, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois mentioned that the forward recently missed one of the group dinners because he wanted to go to sleep early.

Bale practiced normally with the rest of the squad on Tuesday, though, with nothing indicating he would not be included in the squad for the match. It wasn’t likely he would start, however. In the first leg, Solari began with Vinicius Junior in the lineup and Bale on the bench.

A player certain to start on Wednesday is Lionel Messi, who is coming off a stellar performance in Barcelona’s 4-2 win against Sevilla over the weekend, when he scored a hat trick and set up another goal to rebound from a series of poor performances. Messi did not play the entire first leg against Madrid because of a right leg injury.

Solari said there was no reason to fear Messi, regardless of how well he was playing.

“That doesn’t exist for those who compete in soccer,” Solari said. “Those who compete are always out there to battle.”