Bilbao qualifies for Copa del Rey final

Updated: February 8, 2012

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BILBAO, Spain (AP) — Athletic Bilbao advanced to the final of the Copa del Rey with a 6-2 rout of Mirandes on Tuesday, bringing an emphatic end to the third-tier club’s historic run.

Goals by Iker Muniain, Markel Susaeta and defender Jon Aurtenetxe had Bilbao up 3-0 by the 22nd minute as Mirandes was finally outclassed by a topflight club after having eliminated three straight to make the semifinals.

Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente and Mirandes’ Aitor Blanco each netted twice in a free-scoring second half.

Bilbao, which won the series 8-3 on aggregate, moves on to its 36th final appearance against the winner of the other series between Barcelona and Valencia. Only Real Madrid has made more finals with 37, while Bilbao’s 23 cup titles only trail Barcelona’s 25.

“It’s incredible to return to the final again, and we are all very happy,” Llorente said. “We knew we had to go out focused and that we couldn’t relax.

“We don’t care who we play in the final, we just want to win it.”

As it was the first time Mirandes played in Bilbao’s San Mames stadium, both team captains participated in the tradition of paying homage to Bilbao’s legendary striker Rafael “Pichichi” Moreno Aranzadi by laying a floral arrangement in front of his bust moments before kickoff.

Mirandes had eliminated Villarreal, Racing Santander and Espanyol to become just the third club from below the second division to ever arrive this far in the competition.

But the minnow’s hopes of overturning a 2-1 loss in the first leg and become the first third-division team to reach the final were soon crushed.

Bilbao’s fast-pace passing attack implanted by coach Marcelo Bielsa proved to be way too much to handle for the semiprofessional club, whose star, Pablo Infante, works in a bank during the day.

The 19-year-old Muniain got Bilbao rolling in the 11th minute when he slotted a low shot beyond goalkeeper Nauzet Perez.

Three minutes later Susaeta doubled the Basques’ advantage by finishing off a combination of four straight one-touch passes that left the midfielder unmarked to spin and fire in a left-footed strike.

Susaeta then served up Bilbao’s third goal in the 22nd when he crossed to the far post for Aurtenetxe to float a header over the helpless Nauzet.

Instead of folding, Mirandes came out attacking after halftime and deservedly scored a consolation goal in the 57th when Blanco flicked in the ball after fellow defender Raul Garcia had hit the post.

But just when Mirandes was showing some signs of how it had gotten this far in the tournament, Llorente floated an exquisite chip shot over Nauzet in the 71st, and four minutes later the Spain striker dove to tap in Oscar de Marcos’ cross for his 11th goal in the last eight games.

“We came here believing in our chances,” said Infante. “But we have seen a very strong Athletic.”

With the result beyond doubt, the final minutes saw various chances for both sides as defensive discipline evaporated.

Blanco scored his second goal from close range in the 86th, and teammate Cesar Caneda gifted Bilbao’s its final goal in the 88th when he redirected a cross into his own net.

Even though it failed to reach the final, Mirandes could still find itself playing in next season’s Europa League as all three of the other semifinalists on course for a top-six finish in the Spanish league that would send them into European play.

Barcelona holds a slim away-goal advantage from a 1-1 draw heading into Wednesday’s second leg against Valencia. If the Catalans move on, it will set up a rematch of the 2009 final, which Barcelona won for the first trophy of the club-record 13 secured by coach Pep Guardiola.

The final will be played on May 25 in Madrid.

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