MADRID (AFP) – Lionel Messi struck five minutes from time to hand Barcelona a vital 1-0 lead heading into the second leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final with Atletico Madrid.
Atletico looked set to round off a fine day for the club after the confirmation that Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin will spend 45 million euros (US$52 million) for 20 percent of the club by holding out for a 0-0 draw.
However, Juanfran was penalised for kicking Sergio Busquets inside the area late on and Messi was relieved to slot home at the second attempt after seeing his penalty saved by Jan Oblak.
The two sides will meet again at the Vicente Calderon in Madrid on Wednesday, January 28.
“It’s a good result, but we’ve got the return leg to go and that will be another intense 90 minutes,” said Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta.
“We’ve put in a great shift against a team that’s really difficult to overcome.
“We’re happy to win 1-0. Keeping a clean sheet is very important, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.”
Atletico boss Diego Simeone remains confident that his side’s tremendous home form can see them turn the tie on its head.
“We still have a chance against an opponent that played very well. The tie is still very open,” he said.
Fernando Torres was paired once more with Antoine Griezmann up front for Atletico after the pair combined to allow Torres to score in the opening minute of each half as they secured a 4-2 aggregate win over Real Madrid in the last 16 a week ago.
However, just like in their league meeting 10 days ago, it was Barca who made a fast start this time and Atletico goalkeeper Oblak was forced into a fine save to turn Neymar’s curling effort behind after just four minutes.
Atletico weathered the early storm without any further scares and grew into the game.
Torres saw a low shot deflect wide off Gerard Pique, whilst Guilherme Siqueira’s cross from the left was just too high for Griezmann as the Frenchman’s header sailed harmlessly over.
Barca’s best chance of the opening half arrived 10 minutes before the break when Ivan Rakitic’s ball into the box landed at the feet of Luis Suarez, but he somehow blazed over with just Oblak to beat from point-blank range.
Torres then failed to find Griezmann as he gifted the ball to Pique to end a promising break and that was to be the former Chelsea striker’s last involvement as he was replaced at half-time by Mario Mandzukic.