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Coutinho strikes as Barca reach fifth straight Copa final

VALENCIA: Another year, another Copa del Rey final for Barcelona.
Philippe Coutinho came off the bench to score his his first goal since his blockbuster 160 million-euro ($192 million) move from Liverpool as Barca defeated Valencia 2-0 on Thursday to reach the Copa final for for a record fifth year in a row.
Coutinho broke the deadlock in the 49th minute of the semi-final, second leg at Mestalla, having only come on at the start of the second half.
Ivan Rakitic then swept home the second goal eight minutes from the end, giving Barcelona a 3-0 win on aggregate after a 1-0 victory in the opener at Camp Nou.
Barca have won the trophy for the last three years and face Sevilla in the final on April 21, a re-run of the 2016 showpiece which the Catalans won 2-0 after extra time.
Sevilla beat Leganes 2-0 on Wednesday in the other semi-final to advance 3-1 on aggregate.
“It’s not an easy feat to make it to the final this many times in a row,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
With Barca nine points clear at the top of La Liga and still in the Champions League, Valverde remains on course to win what would be a remarkable treble in his first season at the club since arriving from Athletic Bilbao.
“Of course we want to try to win everything we can, but I don’t like to talk about trebles until they happen. For the moment all we have is the possibility of playing in a final,” he said.
Valencia had been hoping to reach the final for the first time since they won the trophy under Ronald Koeman in 2008, beating Barcelona in the last four on the way.
“We had our chances,” Valencia coach Marcelino Garcia Toral said. “But they were superior. We competed well but we are not at the same level right now.”
Valencia bossed the first half at a packed Mestalla, creating some significant scoring chances.
Lionel Messi had come close on a couple of occasions for the visitors in the first half, but it was the introduction of Coutinho that swung the tie decisively their way.
Valverde sent his recent recruit on in place of Andre Gomes, and Coutinho quickly made his mark.
Luis Suarez raced past a defender inside the area before crossing the ball to Coutinho and the Brazilian playmaker, Barca’s most expensive signing, slid to reach the ball and sent it toward the far corner.
“I feel very happy to be able to play in a final while being at the club for only a couple of months,” Coutinho told reporters. “We still have to play it and we’ve got a lot of things to do before the final.
“I have been trying to score since my first game and I’m happy to have done that, although the most important thing is that the team won the game and we are able to leave here happy.
“Everyone told me we could be the first team to reach five finals in a row, we all knew it and it’s a great achievement.”
Valencia had centre-back Ezequiel Garay carried off and then saw Jasper Cillessen make an incredible save to deny Jose Gaya from point-blank range in the 74th minute.
They were condemned to a sixth straight defeat in all competitions as Suarez pounced on a Gabriel Paulista error and set up Rakitic for an easy shot from inside the area.
The only slight setback for Barca was the sight of centre-back Gerard Pique coming off hurt late on, with Colombian international defender Yerry Mina coming on for his debut.
It was the sixth straight loss for Valencia in all competitions.
“We played a very good first half and we had some very good chances to score and level the tie, but when you’re playing against these teams if you dont score the chances you get you pay a price,” said Valencia keeper Jaume Domenech.

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