Lionel Messi’s third goal from a free-kick in as many games this year secured Barcelona’s place in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey as the holders beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1 to edge through 4-3 on aggregate on Wednesday.
Luis Suarez’s 100th Barca goal and Neymar’s penalty canceled out Athletic’s 2-1 first-leg lead, but Enric Saborit’s header six minutes into the second half had the tie headed for extra-time.
However, just as in the first leg and in a 1-1 draw at Villarreal on Sunday, Messi rode to Barca’s rescue with another exquisite free-kick that clipped the inside of the post on its way past Gorka Iraizoz.
“There is a reason why Messi is the best in the world,” Suarez told Barca TV. “He surprises you with something beautiful in every game.”
Barca were under huge pressure to deliver their first win of the year as the slipup at Villarreal left them five points adrift of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, who also have a game in hand.
“It is important for our confidence. We wanted and needed a result like that,” Suarez said. “We are calm, working hard and know that the results will come.”
The buildup to the game had been dominated by talk of controversial refereeing calls in the first leg as Athletic ended the game with nine men, while Barca had a stonewall penalty claim waived away, and there was more controversy on 26 minutes when Neymar was wrongly flagged offside as he set up Suarez for a tap-in.
However, the same combination was not to be denied 10 minutes before halftime when Neymar’s cross was hammered into the far corner by Suarez to bring up his Barca century.
“The important thing is it contributed to us going through, which is what we wanted,” Suarez said.
Three minutes into the second half Neymar was chopped down by Eneko Boveda and the Brazilian ended a 1,023-minute drought for Barca as he sent Iraizoz the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Barca’s joy was short-lived, though, as Athletic got the away goal they needed when Saborit’s downward header at the back post beat both Jasper Cillessen and Samuel Umtiti on the line.
However, Messi proved the match winner 11 minutes from time.
“I am very satisfied,” Barca coach Luis Enrique said. “We controlled the game at every moment.”
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