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Messi free-kick magic sends Barca into Cup quarters

 Barcelona, Jan 12 (AFP) Lionel Messi's third goal from a free-kick in as many games this year secured Barcelona's place

in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey as the holders beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1 to edge through 4-3 on aggregate.


Luis Suarez's 100th Barca goal and Neymar's penalty cancelled out Athletic's 2-1 first leg lead, but Enric Saborit's header six minutes into the second-half had the tie headed for extra time.


However, just as in the first leg and in a 1-1 draw at Villarreal on Sunday, Messi rode to Barca's rescue with another exquisite free-kick that clipped the inside of the post on its way past Gorka Iraizoz.


The build-up to the game had been dominated by talk of controversial refereeing calls in the first leg as Athletic ended the game with nine men, whilst Barca had a stonewall penalty claim waived away.


And there was more controversy on 26 minutes when Neymar was wrongly flagged offside as he set up Suarez for a tap in.


However, the same combination wasn't to be denied 10 minutes before half-time when Neymar's cross was hammered into

the far corner by Suarez to bring up his Barca century. 


Suarez's strike was also the 300th goal scored by Barca's fearsome "MSN" forward line since he joined the club in  2014

with Messi netting 124 and Neymar 76.


It was 301 just three minutes into the second-half when Neymar was chopped down by Eneko Boveda. Messi handed Neymar

responsibility from the spot and the Brazilian ended a 1,023-minute drought for Barca as he sent Iraizoz the wrong

way to register his first goal since October 19.


Barca's joy was short-lived, though, as with their first serious attack Athletic got the away goal they needed when Saborit's downward header at the back post beat both Jasper Cillessen and Samuel Umtiti on the line.


However, Messi proved the match winner 11 minutes from time as he outfoxed Iraizoz. A week after beating the Athletic

'keeper to his right, the five-time World Player of the Year pulled his free-kick in off Iraizoz's left-hand post for his

26th goal in 23 games this season.


An incredible individual run by Neymar nearly sealed the tie as he hit the outside of the post moments later, but Barca

held on to maintain their record of not being eliminated by anyone other than Real Madrid since 2008.


Barcelona will be joined by Real Sociedad, Alcorcon and Alaves in Friday's draw after they also secured their place in

the last eight on Wednesday. Atletico Madrid secured their place in the last eight on Tuesday 4-3 on aggregate despite

losing 3-2 at home to Las Palmas.


Real Madrid carry a comfortable 3-0 lead into the second leg of their tie away at Sevilla on Thursday. AFP KHS

KHS