A hat-trick from Cristian Tello all but booked Barcelona’s place in the last four of the Copa del Rey, with a 4-1 victory over Levante in Valencia giving them a commanding first-leg advantage in their quarterfinal.
Such an outcome had looked an unlikely prospect at half time when Levante capitalized on a poor opening 45 minutes from the visitors to go in front through former Liverpool attacking midfielder Nabil El Zhar. But things changed dramatically following an own goal early in the second half from veteran defender Juanfran. Three more goals followed, each from Tello, and each from Lionel Messi assists.
Barcelona had made eight changes from the weekend draw against the same opponents, but for long periods it looked like being another disappointing display from Gerardo Martino’s side. And, as on Sunday, it was some poor defending from a set-piece that allowed Levante to take the lead. From a deep free-kick, Carles Puyol could only head back into the danger zone before El Zhar saw his first header blocked by Jose Manuel Pinto but, with Barcelona’s players statuesque, he was able to fire in at the second attempt.
Despite Barcelona having plenty of possession, it was hard to argue that Levante weren’t good value for their lead at the break. There will have been massive disappointment then at the farcical circumstances that led to Barcelona’s equalizer. Tello produced a tame shot that Javi Jimenez repelled but Loukas Vyntra cleared wildly against fellow defender Juanfran to take the ball bizarrely into the net.
From then on it was the Messi and Tello show. First the Argentine’s majestic pass pierced through the Levante defense and the young winger this time finished more impressively high over Jimenez. Two more followed in the final 10 minutes.
Tello’s second was all about Messi, as he won a free-kick, took it quickly, then weaved his way through the Levante players before threading in Tello for another simple finish cutting in from the left. And the theme was complete with four minutes left on the clock. Levante incredibly allowed Messi the time to pick a chipped pass over the Levante defense to find Tello running in behind and the 22-year-old controlled and finished to surely send Barcelona through with 90 minutes to spare.
Sports reporter, mainly focusing on my native sport of soccer, but also dabbling in some tennis and Formula One.