Thursday, 12 January 2017

FC Barcelona 3-1 Athletic Club (4-3 on aggregate): The trident strikes again

MIKE ROBERTS

Barcelona (CNA).- FC Barcelona are through to the quarter finals of the Copa del Rey after the second leg of the round of 16 tie with Athletic Club was just as pulsating as the first. There was tension right to the end but with all three members of the attacking trident on this kind of form there was only going to be one winner. After two setbacks, the first victory of 2017 is in the bag and Barça will be one of the eight names featuring in Friday’s draw. "From what we could see from the two legs, our qualification was the fairest outcome”, said Barça’s coach, Luis Enrique. "Leo Messi was as decisive as ever. I hope he stays here for many more years”, he added

Contradictory as it may sound, the game got off to a lively but uneventful start. There was plenty of movement from both sides, but little in the way of real chances. Barça were regularly getting the ball into the opposing area but without making the final connection, while Ernesto Valderde was well aware that it would be a very dangerous tactic for Athletic to sit back on their slender lead.

Suárez into triple figures

Key decisions were not going Barça’s way. Even when they did find the net after 27 minutes, after Iniesta picked out Neymar, who set up Luis Suárez to finish off the move, the goal was disallowed because the match officials had spotted an offside along the way. An offside that was nowhere to be seen in any action replays.

But there was no doubt eight minutes later when Suárez found the net for the second time. Neymar was again the provider and the Uruguayan’s volley was one for the end-of-season highlights reel. His 100th goal for the club and also one of the best. Barça led 1-0 and as things stood, were through to the quarter finals.

Goals at each end

Barça quickly threatened to build on that lead but the second goal would have to wait until after the break. The action had barely restarted when Bóveda brought down Neymar and didn’t even bother arguing with the referee’s decision. The Brazilian himself took the penalty to bring an end to his personal goal drought. It looked like Barça were cruising.

But almost straight from the restart, Athletic pulled one back. Elustondo popped in the cross and Saborit headed home. Barça still led on the night, but on aggregate the teams were now locked and Athletic’s away goal spelled a much nervier mood in the Camp Nou.

Messi seals it

Those nerves would not be calmed until the 77th minute. Suárez was brought down on the edge of the area, and the way Messi has been taking free kicks of late, that was always going to mean trouble for Athletic stopper Gorka. Too right it did. Free kicks that bounce in off the post are as unstoppable as free kicks get. 3-1 and Barça were back in command.

The Camp Nou was now buzzing. As Neymar struck the ball onto the post, then went on a whirling run through the entire Basque defence, it hardly seemed to matter that Athletic were still only a goal away from qualification. This game was won.

And so the 180 minute rollercoaster ride of cup football drew to a close. Commiserations to Athletic, who as ever put up a fine battle and can return to Bilbao with their heads held high. But when this game was over there were only two words left to say … Força Barça!

  • suarez-messi-iniesta

  • Iniesta, Suárez and Messi celebrate as FC Barcelona score against Athletic Club (by FCB)