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Barça did everything they could and more in this game and Leo Messi very nearly had it at the end… But just when the watching world was preparing for an additional 30 minutes, Athletic Club produced a winner from nowhere and will be marching into the semi-finals at the Catalans’ expense.
On an evening that Real Madrid also crashed out, 4-3 at home to Real Sociedad, Barça’s name has been added to the list of victims in a new-look Copa del Rey that’s providing no end of ‘cupsets’.
The unlikely foursome of Granada, Mirandés, Real Sociedad and Athletic will now do battle for a place in the final, and Barça can only lick the wound.
Intense was the best word to describe the mood as the two most successful sides in the history of this competition went at it straight from the start. Both Messi and Ansu Fati were snapping at the slightest of errors in the Basque midfield and both had more than one chance to score in the first half.
But buoyed by the biggest attendance ever at the new San Mamés, the home side kept their fans excited by creating their own share of danger too. Iñaki Williams even found the net early on, but the flag went up for offside.
There was no score at the break, and when play resumed it was more of the same. Barça were generally on top and the ball spent most of the time in and around Unai Simón’s area. But Athletic were hungrily keeping Ter Stegen and his defence on their toes as well.
Plenty of drama
Substitute Antoine Griezmann came closest to a goal so far, De Jong was denied a possible penalty, Gerard Piqué went off hurt, yellow cards were being flashed left, right and centre… It was all happening, but as the clock ticked down we were still waiting for the first goal.
It was a classic end-to-end cup tie, and confirmation that the decision to change the Copa del Rey from two legs to one is certainly a winner as far as entertainment is concerned.
One flash of brilliance, one lucky break or one costly error and this game could be all over.
Last gasp agony
With two minutes to go, Barça had it. Arthur’s impeccable pass put Messi through. San Mamés went silent. The GOAT rarely fails from here.
But Simón was having an inspired night in the Athletic goal. He somehow got a foot to it, and the only good news was that we were going to be treated to an additional 30 minutes.
Or so everyone thought. Right at the end. At the very, very end … Capa lashed in a cross, Williams managed to get enough head on it to confound Ter Stegen, and the ball landed in the back of the net.
The Barça players slumped to the floor. It was all over in the cruellest of manners. Spanish Cup title number 31 won’t be coming our way this year...
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