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Barcelona edge out rivals Espanyol to reach Copa del Rey semis


Barcelona edge out rivals Espanyol to reach Copa del Rey semis

Barcelona edge out rivals Espanyol to reach Copa del Rey semis

First half strikes from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi helped Barcelona come from a first leg deficit to beat Espanyol 2-0 (2-1 on aggregate) and reach the Copa del Rey semi-finals on Thursday.

Barcelona’s record signing Philippe Coutinho made his debut in the second half, but his team endured a nervy finale as an Espanyol strike in the final stages would have sent them through on away goals.

Suarez opened the scoring from Aleix Vidal’s cross in the ninth minute, as the cup holders started strongly.

The 29-time winners then doubled their lead when Messi won the ball on the right of the area and sent a deflected strike past Pau Lopez.

Coutinho made an instant impact after coming on in the 68th minute, but Suarez fired his cross at Lopez, who denied Ivan Rakitic from the rebound.

Messi hit the post from close range and Espanyol had a penalty appeal turned down when Jordi Alba appeared to pull back Gerard Moreno in the area in a frantic end to the game.

“In Cornella they celebrated (the first leg win) as if they had gone to the next round but we were much better and it will be us in the semi-finals,” said Sergio Busquets.

“It’s a tournament we have won a lot in recent years. It’s clear that there are priorities in the season but the cup is important and we will fight until the end.”

Barcelona are looking to lift the trophy for the fourth season running and win it for a record 30th time.

Ernesto Valverde picked a strong side, with Samuel Umtiti restored to the starting line up for the first time since he was injured at the start of December.

The Frenchman was at his best as Barcelona kept Espanyol at bay and raced into a two goal lead, which ultimately proved enough to turn the tie in their favour.

Messi’s strike, which hit Naldo and wrong-footed goalkeeper Lopez, was Barcelona’s 4,000th goal at Camp Nou.

Just one of those were scored by Javier Mascherano, who was brought out before the game to wave goodbye to appreciative fans ahead of his move to Chinese side Hebei Fortune.

Although the Argentine enforcer was not playing, there were plenty of aggressive challenges flying in during a typical derby encounter, mainly from the visitors.

“Our team maintained their hope until the final moment of the game,” said Espanyol coach Quique Sanchez Flores. “We did what we had to do.”

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