Lionel Messi lifted the gloom from a worrying injury to Neymar by scoring a stunning second-half goal to add to one before the break and take Barcelona through to the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey. Messi’s brace mean Barcelona beat Getafe 6-0 on aggregate and go on to face Levante in the last eight.
After a 4-0 win for Barcelona in the first leg of the last-16 tie at the Camp Nou a week ago, the return match in Madrid was always likely to be a non-event. And that’s largely how it proved, despite Tata Martino selecting a strong lineup featuring Neymar and Lionel Messi. It was the star pair who were, for very different reasons, to leave their mark on the game despite its general lack of intensity and quality.
Neymar was forced off with an injury to his right ankle early on that an initial examination suggest was a sprained peroneal tendon. But, with the World Cup this summer and, more immediately, a Champions League tie against Manchester City to come next month, fears will not be eased until more tests are undergone on Friday.
The match was even more academic following the incident, but Messi helped in Cristian Tello’s cross to put Barcelona in front on the night just before half-time. And the Argentine, who scored two goals on his return from a two month injury layoff in the first leg, secured another brace in spectacular fashion after the break.
There were some encouraging early signs for Barcelona and, in particular, their two leading men both making their first starts of 2014. In just the fourth minute, Messi picked out Neymar with a fine ball into the box before continuing his run and receiving a pass back from the Brazilian, but his first-time shot went wide of the target.
But their time together was cut short midway through the opening half. Looking to create space for a cross heading toward the byline, Neymar’s leg buckled and his right ankle contorted horribly in the turf. His instant call for assistance bought immediate concern and, after later trying and failing to get to his feet, he was carried down the tunnel.
With Getafe also having their defender Alexis carried off shortly after, the first-half was a disjointed affair. Before the injuries, Getafe had spurned a glorious chance to take the lead on the night. A fine break saw Barcelona’s defense caught in disarray as Pablo Sarabia flicked on Angel Lafita’s cross, but Juan Rodriguez’s volley was too close to Jose Manuel Pinto, who blocked well with his legs.
At the other end, Getafe’s high line was keeping things compact in the midfield and denying Barcelona space in which to operate. But Barcelona finally carved Getafe open to take the lead just before the break. Cesc Fabregas unlocked the door with a fine pass through to Tello, who crossed first-time to the near post where Messi guided the ball into the net.
That was a rare positive moment for Tello in an otherwise wasteful performance. The winger, who continues to be linked with a move away as he struggles for regular playing time, had already hammered a shot wide of the near post early on before he did similar on the volley at the start of the second half.
In contrast to an uninspiring encounter, Messi had looked in fine fettle and always just a half-step away from moving into his full-throttle best. With 63 minutes gone, he did just that to stunning effect. Initially just ambling forward with the ball just inside the Getafe half, when met with an opponent he suddenly flicked the on switch. After dancing past one opponent, he surged between two more to get into the box, before knocking it past the stranded Getafe goalkeeper and finishing from the angle into the unguarded net.
It was a moment of sheer brilliance from Messi that encapsulated why, too many, he remains the best player in the world, even if Cristiano Ronaldo deserved the Ballon d’Or over the past year. It could have been an even better night for the man who looks back to his best following a 2013 hampered by muscular problems.
Just moments after his glorious strike, Jordi Codina prevented him from grabbing another. And the Getafe stopper made an even better stop late on to deny Messi a memorable hat-trick. Having tricked his way past two defenders to get through on goal once more, Messi looked poised to find the net, but Codina showed superb reflexes to keep the shot out with his right foot.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.