Ousmane Dembélé scored two goals less than a minute apart and Lionel Messi added a third as the four-time defending champions FC Barcelona didn’t flinch in their bid to overturn a 2-1 aggregate deficit in the Copa del Rey last 16, easily vanquishing Levante to go through to the quarterfinals.
Playing behind a superb defensive line, Barça goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen made one save to pick up a clean sheet.
Dembélé opened the scoring on the half hour mark when his run in towards the goal ended with a defender’s tackle deflecting the ball back into Dembélé, before caroming into the net. With the score 1-0 (2-2 agg, and Barça’s away goal serving as the tiebreaker) Barça were provisionally through to the quarterfinals, but here plenty of football left to play.
Less than a minute later, the Frenchman notched his second goal of the game to put Barça squarely in the driver’s seat, up 2-0 in the game and 3-2 on aggregate.
And that’s how Barça went into the dressing room at halftime, up a pair, but knowing that a single Levante goal would be enough to send the two-legged tie to overtime and, possibly, to a penalty shootout.
Dembélé’s first goal gave him the distinction of becoming the only Barça player this season to score in all four competitions. Dembélé had already found the net in the Spanish Super Cup, in La Liga, and in the UEFA Champions League.
But if anyone was going to have a say on the final score, it was always going to be Messi. The man they refer to as the goat barely missed on two clear-cut chances in the first half, but he was not to be denied a third time. In the 54th minute, the Argentinian calmly chipped a low shot past the keeper following a precise Nelson Semedo pass from the right wing.
Messi’s goal was his first of the season in the Copa del Rey, but, more importantly, it was also the 49th of his career in the tournament, and it tied him with former Barça great László Kubala for second on the Club’s all-time list.
Barça came into the second leg having to make up a 2-1 aggregate deficit, which came one week before at Levante, when the top stars did not dress and several reserve players were granted significant minutes. But the second leg was all business, and with Barça manager Ernesto Valverde having lined up a starting eleven brimming with first-teamers, once Messi’s goal made it 3-0, and 4-2 on aggregate, Levante stood no chance.
The draw to determine the quarterfinal matchups is set for Friday at 5.00pm CET. Barça could end up facing fellow Catalan sides Girona or RCD Espanyol; the Seville-based teams Sevilla or Real Betis; the Madrid-based clubs Getafe or Real Madrid; or Valencia.