Draw adds to Neville's pain

Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic (No. 4) taking a free kick against Valencia during the King's Cup semi-final on Wednesday. Barcelona earned a late 1-1 draw for an 8-1 aggregate win, taking them to a fifth final in six years.
Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic (No. 4) taking a free kick against Valencia during the King's Cup semi-final on Wednesday. Barcelona earned a late 1-1 draw for an 8-1 aggregate win, taking them to a fifth final in six years.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Even without trident, Barca find equaliser as Valencia coach pins hopes on Espanyol game

MADRID • An under-strength Barcelona set a club record of 29 unbeaten games to progress to the Spanish King's Cup final with a 1-1 draw at Gary Neville's Valencia on Wednesday for an 8-1 aggregate win.

Barca's place in a fifth final in six years was assured after a 7-0 first-leg rout last week, prompting Barca boss Luis Enrique to leave star attacking trio Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar out of the squad.

Under-fire Neville looked set to be handed some relief by Alvaro Negredo's first-half opener at a half-empty Mestalla stadium.

However, 19-year-old Cameroonian midfielder Wilfrid Kaptoum came off the bench to score his first Barca goal and preserve the European champions' unbeaten run six minutes from time.

Sevilla are well placed to meet Barca in the final on May 21 as they travelled to Celta Vigo for the second leg of the other semi-final yesterday leading 4-0.

"I'm very happy to be in the final. Everyone at Barca has had things so good in recent years we are used to reaching the final, but it is hard to be there every year," said Enrique.

In total, he left 11 first-team regulars back in the Catalan capital with an eye to his side's busy upcoming schedule in the Spanish Primera Liga and the Champions League.

By contrast, Valencia find themselves in the midst of a relegation battle in La Liga, having not won for 12 league games, including nine since Neville took charge in December. The coach also left out some of the most important members of his squad for the crucial clash at home to Espanyol tomorrow which looks set to decide his future at the club.

"We are preparing the game already for Saturday, we know it is a big match," said the Englishman. "The focus after losing last week and Sunday has always been the match against Espanyol.

"I thought we deserved to win the game tonight. They weren't perfect circumstances after last week, but the players played with dignity."

But there was some relief for the coach as Negredo, who has cost his side with a series of vital missed chances in recent weeks, finally found the net.

The former Manchester City striker was afforded a huge amount of room behind the Barca defence to open the scoring six minutes before the break and, despite firing his first effort straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the rebound fell favourably for him to tap home his ninth goal of the season.

It was Valencia's first goal in four games since Rodrigo scored in the second leg of their Cup quarter-final win over Las Palmas on Jan 28.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2016, with the headline 'Draw adds to Neville's pain'. Print Edition | Subscribe