Sunday, 22 May 2016

Magical Messi leads Barcelona past Sevilla in Copa del Rey final

Down a man and with top goal scorer Luis Suarez on the sidelines with an apparent hamstring injury, Lionel Messi led Barcelona to a 2-0 extra-time victory in an eventful Copa del Rey final that featured three red cards, two Messi assists and one bizarre game stoppage for the cramping match referee.

When the final whistle blew, though, Messi stood out as the best player in the park.

Sunday’s match did not start off looking like a day to celebrate for the Catalan club. Argentine defender Javier Mascherano took down Sevilla striker Kevin Gameiro in the 34th minute to receiver the fastest red card in the history of the Spanish Cup final, according to the ESPN television broadcast.

When Ever Banega struck the post with his long range effort in the 50th minute, Barcelona appeared to be on its way to concluding the season in forgettable fashion. Making matters worse was an injur to Suarez, who hobbled off less than an hour into the match with an apparent hamstring injury that could put his involvement in the Copa America with Uruguay in jeopardy.

However, Andres Iniesta and Messi offered special magical performances. Messi played a perfectly timed pass for Neymar in stoppage time of regulation, and Banega put in a fateful, last-ditch tackle to stop the Brazilian from getting in on goal unmarked. Banega succeeded in stopping the attack, but as the last defender, the midfield maestro saw red.

Suddenly, Barcelona and Sevilla were both down to 10 men with 30 minutes of added time to come. Considering Gerard Pique’s clean clearances in the back, Sergio Busquets’ tireless tackling in the middle and Messi’s and Iniesta’s magical inspiration in the attack, Barcelona being back level put the Catalans in complete control from that point forward.

In the 97th minute, Messi found Jordi Alba with a perfectly weighted ball over the top of the Sevilla’s defense. The left back managed to beat the keeper from a sharp angle, but Messi’s second incisive pass of the game had now provided Barcelona the advantage and clear view to completing the domestic double.

Messi’s influence did not only arrive with his passing. Daniel Carrico’s challenge on the Argentine drew a second yellow and put Sevilla down to nine men with eight minutes remaining in extra time. In effect, Messi had disqualified two of Sevilla’s players and assisted on the pass that gave Barcelona the lead.

As an encore, the little magician from Rosario set up Neymar with a perfectly timed pass that beat Sevilla’s offside trap. Neymar made no mistake as he slotted home to clinch a 2-0 Barcelona victory. In truth, Barcelona could have scored a couple more had Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico not been in rare form.

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