It all comes down to this.
After an exciting season, it appeared two of the best players in the world would be dueling it out for the Copa del Rey. Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi was being built up as one of the greatest showdowns in Spanish soccer.
Unfortunately, only one of those phenomenal scorers will be on the pitch. It was revealed on Tuesday that Ronaldo will not play in the Copa del Rey final, as the Guardian reports. Real manager Carlo Ancelotti spoke about the star player missing the final:
Cristiano did not rest because there was no need [...] There was no situation we saw that suggested he was tired and if he had been tired he would not have played. He has a problem that many players have at this stage of the season.
We protect Cristiano in the same way we try to protect all the players as much as possible. It could be a risk playing him and we are not going to take that risk as there are very important games still to come.
So this should now be a match Barca is primed to take, right? Not quite. Real Madrid still has plenty of talent to compete against Barcelona and will surely make this both a competitive match and a hotly contested one.
Before things get underway Wednesday, here's a look at the full match information, preview and prediction for the Copa del Rey final.
What: Copa del Rey Final
Where: Mestalla Stadium, Valencia, Spain
When: 3:25 p.m. ET/8:25 p.m BST/9:25 p.m. CEST
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Copa Del Rey Preview
Even during perhaps one of his down seasons, Messi has been a star in the Spanish league.
Messi hasn't put together the outrageous numbers that made him a superstar, but his consistency throughout the season has still pushed him to the top of the leaderboard in goals scored, as ESPN FC points out:
Thus far in his career, Messi has he proven can be at another level from the rest of the field, something he regularly did during previous campaigns. But without the two-plus goal games or record-setting trends continuing, some wondered what had happened to the game's best player.
After averaging 1.5 goals through his 64 games in the last two seasons, just 25 in 24 contests seems like a huge drop-off. But given the current situation with Ronaldo out of the final match, expect Messi once again to carry Barca, something OptaJose reports he's been doing recently:
Even with the drop-off in production for Messi, Andres Iniesta believes it's simply due to the fact that his greatness over the past several seasons has left fans with unreasonable expectations, per freelance journalist Sergi Dominguez:
Apart from Messi, having the likes of players such as Neymar and Xavi means Barcelona has more than enough firepower to claim the Copa del Rey.
On the other side, dealing with the loss of Ronaldo means the entire team will have to step up to make up for not having the Ballon d'Or winner. One of the prime candidates who will be asked to take the lead will be Gareth Bale.
The winger has a total of 14 goals in La Liga this season and should be expected to take over for Los Blancos, as Nicholas Rigg of ESPNFC.com notes:
Bale will not only be asked to lead the attack should Ronaldo miss out; he'll be obligated to. Like it or not, his price tag demands it, and his Madrid career so far, although impressive in the statistics department, has been hit and miss in his general play.
Unlike Ronaldo, the Welsh wizard has not yet been entrusted to win games single-handedly like Ronaldo, or in Catalonia like Lionel Messi, and Wednesday night gives him the chance to do it on one of the biggest stages -- not just a cup final, but a clasico cup final.
Even with Bale stepping his game up and outstanding play from Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas, Barca will be too much for Los Blancos in the final. Though the team hasn't played up to their potential coming into the match, expect a great performance from this collection of bright stars.
Prediction: Barcelona 2, Real Madrid 1
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