In a thrilling encounter, highlighted by a stunning first half, Barcelona were once again able to get the best of Atletico Madrid, now winning three straight against the Madrid-side. Barcelona were led by Neymar who scored a brace. The other three goals were scored by Atletico Madrid players: Fernando Torres, Raul Garcia and Miranda, but Miranda scored his into his own net.
|Atletico Madrid||FC Barcelona
|Shots on Target||4||7|
Barcelona carried a one goal lead into the return leg after a strong performance at the Camp Nou a week ago. Hoping that the second leg would be as well contested, Luis Enrique played the same starting XI as he did in the first leg. Diego Simeone was forced to make a couple of changes as Diego Godin was suspended while Koke picked up an injury. They were replaced by José Giménez and Raúl García, but the rest of the XI was the same as the first leg.
After a slight delay due to Jesus Gil Manzano's, the referee's, microphone problems and an extra anchor had to be used to secure Marc-Andre ter Stegen's net, Barcelona started the match from midfield. It wasn't a good start though for the Catalans as a Javier Mascherano long ball was intercepted in midfield and sent to well documented Barcelona killer, Torres, who found a soft spot between Mascherano and Gerard Pique. Torres made a couple of touches to get past Mascherano and fired an unstoppable shot past ter Stegen to tie the game on aggregate just 39 seconds from kickoff.
The game was therefore once again wide open, with both sides scoring a goal at home. Barcelona quickly took the ball as far as possible from their goal, hoping to reestablish the lead they came into the game with. Just four minutes in Neymar and Giménez once again had a close encounter, this time on the far left, but unlike 17 days ago Neymar escaped without a bloodied ankle. Ivan Rakitić took the curling free kick, hoping to catch Jan Oblak of guard, but the Slovenian tipped the ball out for a corner kick from which Barcelona did not threaten.
Atletico continued to be dangerous, especially down the left side where Antoine Griezmann often caused havoc. But one of such attacks proved to be the perfect catalyst for Barcelona. Lionel Messi made a brilliant play in midfield, dribbling past Mario Suarez and then finding Luis Suarez in front of him on the right. Suarez sent the ball into space to a wide open Neymar who escaped coverage from Miranda. One-on-one with Oblak Neymar made no mistake, beating the goalkeeper to the far side.
The goal appeared to aggravate Atletico quite a bit as the next few minutes were dominated by hard tackling, with Messi being on the receiving end of two nasty Suarez challenges. But the first yellow card of the game was shown a couple minutes later when Garcia cynically brought down Jordi Alba deep in Barcelona territory.
Atletico continued to threated, obvious with them now needing further two goals to advance, but Barcelona did very well to launch counter attacks against an often outnumbered defense. Even corner kick clearances became a chance for Barcelona as evidenced in the 18th minute when a long heave sprung Neymar. Neymar was again able to outrun his marker, finishing the play off with a calm finish that would've effectively put the tie to bed. But the referee's whistle sounded as the linesman signaled that Neymar was offside at the time of the pass. The replay was anything but concussive as one could not tell if Neymar was fractionally offside, in line with the last defender, or onside altogether.
The hosts pressed hard as the game approached the half hour mark, creating their next great scoring chance in the 27th minute. Torres made a nice run down the left side and sent a perfect ball to the middle where Griezmann attempted a volley but his shot went right at ter Stegen.
In the next minute the referee created some more controversy - what would a Barcelona game be without one? Juanfran made a strong play on the ball on the right side, meeting Mascherano on the very edge of the box. The right-back was able to chip the ball between El Jefecito's legs while he himself ran into Maschdrano. The referee wasted no time pointing to the spot even though the replay clearly showed that the foul occurred outside of the area. Garcia set himself up and brought Atletico back within a goal, evev though ter Stegen guessed right.
As the next goal could take Atletico to the next stage of the competition Barcelona stepped up their game by a couple of gears, not just one. And as soon as they stepped on the ball and didn't allow Atletico to dictate the tempo the Catalans started to create chances.
The first came in the 37th minute when Alves brilliantly found Rakitić in space who quickly fired, but his shot was blocked by a diving Giménez for a corner kick. Then something extraordinary happened. Barcelona, by most accounts one of the worst team in the air, scored a goal from a corner kick against Atletico, one of the very best teams in that area. Rakitić sent a perfect ball into the middle where it was met by Sergio Busquets. His header wasn't one of the best though, but fearing a tip from Suarez, Miranda attempted to clear the ball. It was a terrible clearance, however, as with it the center-back put the ball into his own net.
Three minutes later some more controversy ensued, obviously. Griezmann had his goal bound shot blocked five yards from the line by Alba, specifically his elbow, which, by rule, should've resulted in a penalty kick. The referee waved play on and Barcelona played on with aplomb. Messi led the way on the counter attack, winning acres of space. As he arrived to the penalty area he waited for support which came from Alba who was sprinting all the way from the back. Messi played a brilliant ball to the left-back who dived to send the ball back into the middle to a wide open Neymar who took an extra touch to deke past Oblak and tap the ball over the goal-line.
That proved to be the last exciting play, not counting the antics between Neymar and Torres, in a half that will be included in football textbooks in the "Exciting football" category. For weeks now, maybe even months, football will look utterly boring as replicating a half of football like this one will not be possible. You will have to string together numerous games to get as much excitement as the first half offered.
The second half started with a surprising substation as Saul Niguez replaced Griezmann, and Atletico needing three goals to advance to the semi-final. Another stunning announcement was made at that point as it was made clear that Gabi was shown a direct red card in the tunnel at halftime. Atletico could've easily had another player sent off a couple minutes after the restart as Arda Turan threw his boot at the linesman in frustration after not being awarded a free kick. Gil Manzano somehow decided that only warranted a yellow card. Maybe he should've hit him...
A man down and needing goals Altetico were in tough position. They were unable to press as high as they did in the first half which allowed Barcelona to enjoy most of the ball. And with a player less in the defensive wall Barcelona found it easier to navigate the ball in the attacking third. With time working in their favor Barcelona didn't try to force things, and because Atletico's pressure was virtually nonexistent, the visitors calmly held on to the ball, patiently waiting for some space to open up.
That happened in the 57th minute when Messi made himself available for a long pass to the right side. Controlling the ball perfectly he then waited for help in the form of Suarez who came running into the penalty area through the middle. Messi found him beautifully, but Suarez's shot was blocked.
Quickly thereafter Simeone made his second substitution of the match, taking off Juanfran who was constantly irritated by Neymar, with unfinished business dating back to last season. He was replaced by Jesus Gamez. Lucho countered with a sub of his own in the 62nd minute, taking off the yellow carded, Mascherano, and replaced him with the returning Jeremy Mathieu. At the same moment Simeone completed his third and final sub, replacing Arda with Cani.
It seemed like Atletico accepted their fate at that point, as they allowed Barcelona to play the ball around with little to no urgency, rarely controlling the ball and carrying it into the visitors' half. Barcelona, though, continued to patiently work the ball around, looking for a hole in the Atletico defense.
With the game all but decided the biggest fear for Barcelona were injuries as Atletico continued to play a very physical game, with many fouls bordering on dangerous. Atletico's Suarez was finally booked for a challenge in the 68th minute. Lucho responded to that by taking Rakitić, who only just returned from injury, off the pitch while Rafinha took his place.
On the rare occasion Atletico attacked in numbers they were atill dangerous. In the 71st minute a cross was poorly cleared by Busquets and the ball fell right to Cani on the left side. The former Villarreal player controlled the ball very well and fired a powerful shot on target that was brilliantly kept out by ter Stegen. Pique then cleared the ball out for a corner kick from which Barcelona once again threatened. Rafinha did the bulk of the work with a couple of dribbles and then combined with Neymar, who extended the play to the right, to a wide open Messi. Messi was in a perfect spot to add to Barcelona's lead, but he didn't hit the ball cleanly, sending a slow dribbler into the hands of Oblak.
In the 77th the final substitution of the match was made as Lucho took Neymar, arguably the man of the match, off the pitch and replaced him with Pedro. With 10 minutes left on the clock first Andres Iniesta and then Pedro had chances to extend Barcelona's lead, but Oblak was able to keep the score line respectable.
Altetico picked up another red card in the 84th minute when Suarez, as he had so many times in the game, clipped Messi from behind, earning a premature walk to the dressing room. The remaining few minutes of the match were dominated by yellow cards as Gil Manzano continued to show card after card, with the final tally reaching 10 yellow card and two red cards.
With the win Barcelona booked a place in the semi-final of the Copa del Rey where they will face the winner of the Villarreal-Getafe tie. Villarreal won the first match by the score of 1-0.
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