In what was potentially Barcelona's most difficult match of the season, the Blaugrana got a 1-1 draw at San Mamés and qualified to the quarters-finals of the Copa del Rey, on away goals.
After the 0-0 at Camp Nou, the atmosphere at San Mamés was even more electric than usual. Athletic has a great tradition in the Copa del Rey and they were incredibly motivated for this match. Their supporters created an extremely hostile environment and made life hell for Barcelona. Bilbao players were galvanized and played with an unbelieving intensity.
The first 60 minutes were pretty even and with no clear goalscoring chances. Iniesta came into the match for Adriano and Barcelona finally started to dominate the match. As the minutes wore on, Bilbao lost their intensity and their counterattacks became less and less frequent. In the 75th minute, Messi assisted Abidal, who scored his first goal with the Barcelona jersey! And what a goal it was! The Frenchman showed once again his importance to Pep Guardiola's side.
But this was the most important match of the season for Bilbao and they were not ready to give up. In the 84th minute, Fernando Llorente scored after a quick counterattack. Pinto (who played instead of Valdés) had no chance.
The final 6 minutes were suffocating for Barcelona and their fans. Athletic did everything they could, but they couldn't score the second goal. Barcelona were through to the next round, but the Athletic fans applauded their team as if they had won. They knew that their team had done their absolute best and had managed to push the best team in the world to the limit, something very few teams have done since Guardiola took charge. Even some of Europe's top sides have been known to role over against Barcelona (hint: Real Madrid).
Facing a very good and extra-motivated team, as well as the most hostile environment they could hope for, the Barcelona players showed they are winners once again. It was a really fantastic match, from both teams. A fititng match to celebrate Xavi's appearance record (550). After this match, there's no doubt that Barcelona have the right mentality to challenge for another treble.
Next up in the Copa del Rey is either Getafe or Betis.
Kudos to Bilbao, who played a great match and made Barcelona suffer like no other team had done this season.