Football

Barca’s Messi sees red as Bilbao claim Super Cup glory

Lionel Messi was sent off for the first time in his Barcelona career in the closing stages of extra-time as they lost 3-2 to Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday (Jan 17).

Messi, who returned to the starting line-up after missing the semi-final victory over Real Sociedad through injury, was dismissed after striking Asier Villalibre in the final minute.

The Argentinian had been heavily involved in a more positive way as Barca took the lead five minutes before the break. Messi’s goalbound effort was blocked, falling to the feet of forward Antoine Griezmann, who netted the first of his two goals.

Bilbao responded as Oscar de Marcos met Inaki Williams’ cross two minutes later to send the sides  level at half-time.

However, France international Griezmann looked to have won it for the Catalan side with a goal against the run of play 13 minutes from time, only for substitute Villalibre to volley home in the 90th minute to send the game into the extra period.

Three minutes into the additional half hour, Williams curled a stunning effort into the far corner from the edge of the box to give Bilbao the lead for the first time in the tie.

“What a goal it was,” said a beaming Bilbao coach Marcelino.

“It was a great piece of skill and you couldn’t produce a better finish. In general, I don’t think Barca deserved to take the lead, especially in the first half, anyway.

“The lads were so focused on this game and I’m so proud of them. They make your job easy and enjoyable.”

Marcelino was named as coach only this month after Gaizka Garitano was dismissed and the 55-year-old has now beaten Barca in the last two finals they have reached after his success over them with Valencia in the 2019 Copa del Rey final.

“It’s going to be impossible to keep up that record,” he said.

“I don’t know how many semi-finals I had to play before actually reaching a final, it was eight, but now I’ve won in two finals.”

A third Super Cup title is Bilbao’s first silverware since they claimed the same trophy in 2015 with a 5-1 aggregate win over Barcelona.

Barca coach Ronald Koeman, who missed the chance to grab his first silverware since taking over in the summer, defended his star man over the sending-off.

“I can understand what Messi did,” the 57-year-old said.

“I don’t know how many times they fouled him and it’s normal to react when they keep trying to foul you as a player who is looking to dribble with the ball, but I need to see it again properly.”

Given the red card was shown for violent conduct, Messi is likely to face a four-game ban across La Liga and the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona face neighbours Cornella in the Copa del Rey Round of 32 on Thursday, while they sit third in La Liga, seven points behind leaders Atletico Madrid having played two games more. – REUTERS

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