PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

You can always rely on Barça. Whenever they are called upon to produce the best in the face of adversity, they deliver not just results but spectacle and goals. And tonight we saw one of the finest examples of that in Malaga, where the Catalans won 4-2 thanks to goals from Pedro, Piqué, Iniesta and Messi. But the home side twice equalised and the game was heading for a nerve-racking period of extra time before the last two goals came in the last quarter of an hour.

With a gripping two legs behind them, Barça now continue their title defence in a game that promises to be just as good, if not better, against Real Madrid. The first leg’s next Wednesday at 21.00 at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Quick exchange

Tonight’s cup match got off to a blistering start. FC Barcelona knew they needed to score at least once, and did that after just eight minutes with a goal highly reminiscent of the second goals at Anoeta a few days ago. Alves, assisted by Xavi, laid the ball on a plate to Pedro, and at that point Barça were into the semi finals.

But Malaga didn’t take long to bite back. Joaquín beat Pinto with a low strike from the edge of the area that just squeezed inside the post. There were claims for a Seba handball from the FCB defenders, but the referee wasn’t interested. On the half hour, the 1-1 meant Malaga were back in command thanks to the away goals rule.

Slips, slides and yellow cards

The game was also being conditioned by the state of the field of play, which was causing all kinds of tumbles, especially in the first half. This made it difficult for Barça to produce their trademark football, with several passes going uncharacteristically astray and much difficulty keeping the ball under control. And the constant interruptions provoked by the home team weren’t helping make things any more free flowing. Iturra was lucky to be allowed to stay on the field in the 19th minute and there were a total of six yellow cards in the first 45 minutes.

Piqué celebrates fatherhood in style

Once again needing to score, FC Barcelona came out furiously after the break. Piqué finished off a brilliant cross from Iniesta to celebrate the recent birth of his first son in the best possible fashion. Malaga were clearly stunned by the goal, and with less confidence in their play, looked more intent of preventing a Barça third than scoring a goal of their own. Yet, miraculously for them, they managed to make it 2-2 with a Santa Cruz goal from a counter attack that started with Weligton treading on Cesc in his own area. The cup has a habit of producing such surprises – as things stood, it was Malaga who were going through.

Iniesta and Messi send FCB through

But there was no need to worry that something might be wrong with Barça’s football. Malaga’s equaliser was merely added stimulation, and there is nothing these players like more than a challenge. They even managed to overcome the dreadful surface to produce some of their finest football. Cesc and Iniesta combined to perfection on the edge of the area for the latter to make it 3-2 with a quarter of an hour to go. Barça had one foot in the semi final, because Malaga now needed to get two. Minutes later, Alves served up yet another goal assist, this time for Messi, who slammed home a header. 4-2 and Barcelona were through. A double helping of clásicos now awaits.