Magical Messi takes out Athletic

MSN all got on the scoresheet, but it was Lionel Messi’s night as his free kick took Barcelona past Athletic Bilbao and into the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

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Ivan Rakitic returned to the Barca squad but only as a substitute against Athletic, who took a gamble by starting without Aritz Aduriz, the scorer of both Los Leones’ goals in the first leg to give them a 2-1 advantage going to Camp Nou.

Despite missing a couple of first-team players and having a lead to protect, however, Athletic began by pressing Barca high up the pitch once more, with goalkeeper Jesper Cillessen dealt hardly any time on the ball a couple of times.

That all changed after the first 15 minutes as the Basques became increasingly dirty. A blatant foul from behind on Messi by Mikel San Jose was ignored by the referee, before Aymeric Laporte was lucky to escape with just a booking after he was close to being the last man in his side’s defence when he climbed all over the No 10.

More controversially, still, Suarez appeared to have scored a perfectly-legitimate goal from Andres Iniesta’s cutback, only for it to be wrongly ruled out.

Xabier Etxeita, one of Athletic’s chief perpetrators, ironically hurt himself in one of his challenges.

His exit made for a cleaner game, but it was quickly followed by a sublime finish from Suarez, who met Messi’s deep cross and unleashed a flying volley past Iraizoz for his 100th Barca goal.

Neymar, who surpassed 1000 minutes without scoring, then ended his drought seconds into the restart by coolly sending Iraizoz the wrong way after he was fouled by Eneko Boveda in the box.

Yet some awful defending from Barca let in Enric Saborit at the far post, the left-back’s header bouncing over Cillessen to make for an absorbing final half-hour.

Indeed, two chances suddenly fell to the Basques as Gerard Pique blocked a shot in the hosts’ area, before Samuel Umtiti nervously slices a near-post cross over his own bar.

At the other end, Messi left Laporte for dead down the right, but his low ball into the penalty area was intercepted before it could be stabbed past Iraizoz.

Jordi Alba then teed up Suarez to his right, but the forward’s angled drive ended up half-a-yard wide.

It was left to Messi to silence Athletic with another wonder strike as he curled another free kick past Iraizoz, adding to his crucial away goal in the first leg and solo effort in the 2015 final.

Rakitic subsequently entered the pitch to applause, just days after shock links with Manchester City. Neymar, meanwhile, ghosted pasts a melee of Athletic shirts in the box, going down and getting back up on the way, but his dinked finish was deflected onto the post.

Two more Barca chances saw Suarez fail in rounding Iraizoz and Denis Suarez blasting over the No 9’s bobbled layoff from close range, but they didn’t matter as the Catalans carried their trophy defence into the last eight.

Barcelona 3-1 Athletic Bilbao (4-3 agg.)

Suarez 35, Neymar pen 48, Messi 78 (B) Saborit 51 (AB)

Barcelona: Cillessen; Alba, Pique, Umtiti, Sergi; Rafinha (Rakitic 80), Busquets, Iniesta (Arda 83); Messi, Suarez, Neymar (Denis 87)

Athletic Bilbao: Iraizoz; Boveda, Etxeita (Elustondo 30), Laporte, Balenziaga; San Jose, Benat; Saborit (Susaeta 79), Eraso, Wiliams; Sabin (Aduriz 46)

Referee: Gil Manzano