Local rivals Espanyol hand Barca first loss

Late Espanyol goal gives them slender edge ahead of Copa del Rey quarter-final second leg

Lionel Messi missed a penalty as Espanyol struck in the dying moments to consign Barcelona to their first defeat since last August, in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-finals yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Oscar Melendo slotted home a neat finish with two minutes remaining of a temperamental Catalan Derby, racing onto Marc Navarro's low cross to punish Messi for missing a 62nd-minute penalty and send the home crowd into raptures as they celebrated a 1-0 win.

But Sergio Busquets warned that Barcelona are well placed to mount a second-leg comeback next week. On Barca's first loss of the season, he said: "We knew this day would come, we tried to delay it as much as possible but it couldn't be today.

"The good thing is that we have the second leg to try to mount a comeback.

"We are lucky to have that game at home, and we will have to win whatever happens."

In a match of few chances, Barca's penalty, which came after a foul on Sergi Roberto, looked to be the decisive moment for the away side, but Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez dived superbly to his left to push Messi's powerful shot wide.

Navarro then came close to giving the hosts the lead in the 83rd minute with a dipping free-kick that forced an excellent save from Jasper Cillessen, before five minutes later setting up the goal that gave Espanyol their first win over Barcelona in nearly nine years, reported AFP.

"This victory is important for the history of the club and to break down all those walls," said Espanyol coach Quique Sanchez Flores, who was reported to have recently turned down the Stoke City job.


"It was telling how long ago it had been since we'd won against Barcelona, now the counter is back zero and we're immensely happy about that."

While Sanchez Flores was delighted with the result, Gerard Pique was unhappy with the behaviour of the home fans at the Cornella-El Prat.

Catalan newspaper Sport reported that Cillessen appeared to have an object thrown at him while Pique himself was the victim of abusive chants about his pop star wife Shakira.

"I'm not the one who should take action on the matter. We already know that playing against Espanyol at Cornella is always difficult," said Pique, who yesterday signed a contract extension till 2022 with a 500 million euros (S$809.1m) buy-out clause.

"I hope that all this doesn't happen at Nou Camp, no one being insulted or things thrown on to the pitch."

His coach Ernesto Valverde believes his side were impacted by the atmosphere in the stadium and hampered by poor finishing.

He said: "Despite suffering in strategic situations, sometimes it seems that you suffer more because of the environment than the chances.

"But their approach was to sit back and wait for us, closing any interior spaces. It was hard for us, but we had it under control.

"We were not successful in goal situations.

"The penalty save reactivated the crowd - there was some tension and then they scored."


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