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Never was the old adage of a ‘game of two halves’ more appropriate than it was tonight. A non-stop first half produced five goals, with Barça going behind twice but eventually leading 3-2 at the break. After Atlético were reduced to ten men at half-time, all the fire went out of the game, with Barça’s qualification for the last four of the cup never really looking in doubt.
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It all started like one of the classic Atlético v Barça games of the nineties. It was relentless end-to-end action from start to finish. The opening goal took just thirty seconds to come. In the very first move of the match, Fernando Torres broke free and slotted the ball to Ter Stegen’s left. It was the worst start Barça could have imagined, but the plot would soon be taking several dramatic twists.
Just nine minutes later, Barça made amends. Messi played through to Suárez, who threaded the ball on to Neymar and the Brazilian coolly found the back of the net. The Catalans were back level and Atlético now needed to score twice!
Shortly after, a long ball from Ter Stegen was collected by Neymar, who looked to have scored his and Barça’s second, but the linesman’s flag was up for offside. And Griezmann then fluffed a sitter moments before Atlético went back ahead, this time from a controversial penalty. Even if it had been a foul by Macherano on Juanfran, the replays clearly showed that the contact happened outside the area. But Raul García stepped up to take the kick, and it was 2-1.
After 36 minutes, Barça equalised for the second time in the match, this time courtesy of an Atlético own goal. After Oblak turned a Rakitic strike behind for a corner, the ensuing kick was knocked by Miranda into his own net.
The 41st minute produced further drama. A perfect opportunity for Griezmann struck Jordi Alba, and while the Calderón was screaming for handball, Barça broke away on the counter. Messi laid the ball off to the same Alba, who did brilliantly to set up Neymar, and the Brazilian only had to run the ball in to make it 3-2. Now Atlético needed to score three and the semi-finals beckoned for FCB.
Red in the tunnel
As the teams came out for the second half, it turned out Atlético were down to ten men. The referee had red carded Gabi following an incident in the players’ tunnel at half-time. And the situation had clearly knocked the wind out of the home side, who approached the second half in a dejected mood, knowing that they had an almost impossible task ahead of them.
All the intensity had gone out of the game, and other than one brilliant save by Ter Stegen to deny Cani after 71 minutes, the rest of the half was a Barça monologue. But there was to be no further score. Suárez came closest after 57 minutes, but his shot sailed over the bar, and there were back-to-back strikes from Iniesta and Pedro that Oblak dealt with well.
For Atlético, the frustration got worse and as they collected yellow card after yellow card, they were eventually reduced to nine men when Mario Suárez received his second. By this stage, they were resigned to defeat and the Barça fans were already celebrating passage to the semi-finals.
Barça will find out who their opponents will be on Thursday night when Villarreal defend their 1-0 lead from the first leg against Getafe.
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