LIonel Messi, Luis Suarez boost Barcelona to the Copa del Rey final
Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez teamed up again to send Barcelona to a fourth consecutive Copa del Rey final after a combative 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday that saw three players sent off.
Suarez fired in a rebound from Messi’s shot to put Barcelona ahead, but the Uruguay striker will miss the final after being dismissed for a second booking in the 90th minute of a game that helped his team to a 3-2 victory on aggregate.
Suarez scored two minutes before halftime after Messi had dribbled through Atletico’s defense and forced goalkeeper Miguel Moya to make a save.
“We did what we needed to do to reach the final and with hard work we got there,” Suarez said. As for his red card, he added: “The sending-off makes me laugh because it seems to be what the referee wanted.”
Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto was the first player to be sent off after collecting a second yellow card with more than half an hour remaining for a studs-first challenge of Filipe Luis. Atletico was reduced to 10 men shortly afterward following Yannick Carrasco’s second booking for cutting down Arda Turan.
Messi almost added a second goal in the 77th with a free kick that rattled the crossbar, before the match swung Atletico’s way.
Moments after Kevin Gameiro had sent a penalty kick over the bar, the Atletico substitute striker equalized from Antoine Griezmann’s pass in the 83rd to add some drama to the finale.
Atletico hemmed Barcelona into its area but couldn’t find an equalizer.
Despite the elimination, Atletico coach Diego Simeone said he hoped his team could build on the strong performance, which also included a Griezmann goal incorrectly ruled off-side and a slew of shots.
“My team played with passion, with heart. We are out, but our heads are high,” Simeone said. “I pray we can keep playing like we did in the second half of the first leg and the entire match tonight. When you lose like this, something special can grow inside the team.”
While Simeone took pride in his team’s showing, counterpart Luis Enrique acknowledged that his Barcelona side was far from its best.
Other than Messi, Barcelona lacked its characteristic ball possession, its ease of generating shots, and the composure of a reigning champion.
“We didn’t look like the team that had won this competition,” Luis Enrique said. “Atletico was dangerous from the start, but luck was on our side. It would have been dangerous to go into added time.”
Barcelona has won Spain’s domestic cup for the past two seasons and holds a record of 28 Copa del Rey trophies.
The defending champions will face either Celta Vigo or Alaves in the final. Celta visits Alaves in the other semifinal on Wednesday after they drew 0-0 in their first leg.