BARCELONA – FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi scored a remarkable free-kick goal Wednesday night against Athletic Bilbao to book a quarterfinal berth for his club in Spain’s Copa del Rey tournament.
The Catalans came into the clash at Camp Nou having lost the first leg 2-1 but they were able to rally and win 4-3 on aggregate thanks to goals by Luis Suarez and Neymar in the 35th and 48th minutes, respectively, and Messi’s clincher.
Barcelona could have opened the scoring in the 25th minute when referee Gil Manzano thwarted a clear scoring opportunity with a highly questionable offside ruling.
Ten minutes later, however, Suarez scored on a powerful volley in what was the only shot on goal over the first 45 minutes.
Shortly after halftime, the hosts appeared to seize full control of the match when Neymar converted a penalty kick, but Enric Saborit headed home a cross by Gorka Elustondo in the 51st minute that knotted the score at 3-3 on aggregate.
But that goal merely set the stage for Messi.
Standing just outside the penalty arc, the Argentine super-striker curled a phenomenal free kick that snuck just inside the right upright and left goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz frozen in place.
Afterward, head coach Luis Enrique did not bite when asked about statements by the club’s CEO, Oscar Grau, who said the club needs to find the right formula in seeking to extend Messi’s contract when it expires in the summer of 2018.
“I don’t know what the CEO said, but tell me a match when Leo Messi wasn’t decisive. We all want Messi to stay here for many years and bring us enjoyment,” he said.
Also advancing Wednesday to the Copa del Rey quarterfinals were Alcorcon, Real Sociedad and Alaves.
Real Madrid, which leads Sevilla 3-0, will look to book a quarterfinal berth in second-leg action on Thursday at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.