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Sometimes the scoreboard can make a game seem a lot closer than it was.
FC Barcelona took a two-goal aggregate lead into the final minutes at San Mamés on Wednesday night — and had chances to score more — but Athletic Club Bilbao clawed one back in the waning moments to keep this Copa del Rey quarter-final tie between last year’s finalists alive and well heading into next week’s second leg at Camp Nou.
Almost everything seemed to be going Barça’s way when Munir El Haddadi scored in the 18th minute and Neymar doubled the lead in the 25th.
But Athletic Club scored in the 89th minute when a failed clearance deep in FC Barcelona territory allowed Aritz Aduriz to redirect a pass from Mikel San José past goalkeeper Marc-André Ter Stegen to make it a 2–1 game.
Aduriz, who is Athletic’s leading scorer and was back in the starting line-up after serving a one-game ban, was a non-factor until the late goal.
In the 90th minute Ter Stegen made an incredible reflex save on what would have been the tying score to preserve the victory for Barça.
FC Barcelona opened the scoring on 18 minutes when striker Munir slotted in a low cross from midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who had gone unmarked on the right wing.
For Munir — starting in place of Luis Suárez, who was serving the second game of a two-game suspension stemming from Barça’s last-16 tie with Espanyol — the goal was his team- and competition-leading 5th in this year’s Copa del Rey.
Besides Suárez, FC Barcelona were also playing without striker Lionel Messi, who sat out as a precaution after complaining of mild discomfort during Sunday’s encounter between the two teams.
Barça doubled their lead in the 25th minute when Neymar pounced on a miscue by Athletic defender Xabi Etxeita and rolled the ball into an open net.
It was the second straight game that Etxeita botched a defensive play that led to a Barça goal. In Sunday’s league match at Camp Nou, it was Etxeita’s error in minute three that saddled his own side with an insurmountable burden — a direct red card, a Barça penalty kick goal, and over 80 minutes of playing down a man that yielded five more scores before the final whistle.
Barça’s second goal on Wednesday night, opening up a 2–0 aggregate lead on the road with the second leg still to come, was looking every bit as insurmountable until Aduriz broke through late.
FC Barcelona extend their unbeaten streak to 23 games across all competitions and have now won 13 of their last 14 games in the Copa del Rey. The lone blemish was a scoreless first-leg draw at Villanovense in the last-32.
The return leg at Camp Nou is set for next Wednesday, 27 January. It will be the third match between the two teams in a 10-day span.
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