Monday, January 28, 2013

Barca to Copa del Rey Semis


Barcelona belatedly broke Malaga's game resistance in the closing stages of an epic Copa del Rey clash at the Rosaleda, triumphing 4-2 on the night, and 6-4 on aggregate, to set up a mouthwatering last-four encounter with great rival Real Madrid.

Twice the Blaugrana went ahead, through Pedro and Gerard Pique, and twice they were pegged back, first by Joaquin and then by Roque Santa Cruz. However, the Catalans reclaimed the lead through Andres Iniesta before Lionel Messi sealed their progression to the semifinals with a late header.

Barcelona’s disappointment at having drawn the first leg at home had been compounded by the shock of losing in La Liga for the first time this season, Tito Vilanova’s men suffering a dramatic defeat against Real Sociedad. However, they looked in fine fettle early on at the Rosaleda, taking the lead with the kind of wonderful passing move which has become their trademark in recent years.

Dani Alves advanced down the right wing before slipping a pass inside that Pedro cleverly allowed to run on to Xavi. The playmaker, as his wont, took a moment before smoothly slipping the ball through to Alves, who had continued his run in behind the Malaga defense. The Brazilian then calmly assessed his options before deftly chipping the ball up for the supporting Pedro to head home.

Other sides may have folded after being seemingly put so firmly in their place by Barca’s bewitching brilliance, but Malaga, as it so wonderfully underlined at Camp Nou the week before, is well able to mix it with the self-styled masters of the beautiful game and they drew level less than four minutes later, Joaquin sweeping home from just inside the Barca box.

The visitors went close to restoring their one-goal advantage, both on the night and on aggregate, at the end of a truly enthralling opening quarter when Martin Demichelis gifted possession to Lionel Messi on the edge of his own area, but the talismanic No. 10 saw his low strike well saved by Malaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni.

At the other end, Roque Santa Cruz was unable to control his volley after getting on the end of an inswinging cross from the left-hand side, but it was Barca which was still carrying the greater attacking threat and Andres Iniesta struck the top of the bar following a sublime one-two with Messi.

As it was, the two sides went in at halftime still level on the night and on aggregate, but with Malaga head on account of the away goals rule. However, Barca reclaimed the lead within four minutes of the restart, Pique showing the poise of a center forward in controlling a precision pass from Iniesta before slotting past Kameni.

Iniesta opened up the hosts' defense again on 67 minutes, scooping the ball through for Messi, who, again, inexplicably shot tamely at Kameni. It proved a costly miss because Malaga immediately counterattacked and Joaquin, after cutting infield, laid the ball off to Santa Cruz, who angled a shot past Jose Pinto via the right post.

Barca was furious, with a number of its contingent having felt that Fabregas had been stamped on by Weligton before Malaga had broken upfield. However, it did not allow their rage to get the better of the club and simply went about reclaiming the lead, which it did with just 10 minutes remaining.

Iniesta again provided the inspiration, playing another wonderful one-two, on this occasion with Fabregas, before sliding the ball under the advancing Kameni. This time around, Barca made sure that it finished the job, with Messi atoning for his earlier misses by heading home another wonderful delivery from the right from Alves.