Messi Scores Consolation As Athletic Bilbao Beat Barca In Copa Del Ray [REPORT]

Athletic Bilbao managed a 2-1 win despite playing with nine men over Barcelona in the first leg of their Copa del Rey clash Thursday night.

Two goals in three first-half minutes from veteran striker Aritz Aduriz and red-hot Inaki Williams got the Basques cruising at the San Mames.

Barca talisman Lionel Messi halved the deficit with a sublime free-kick after the break, but it wasn’t enough to spark a revival on a fiery night that threatened to spiral out of control.

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique started all three of his star strike force of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar despite handing them an extended winter break which meant they only resumed training on Monday.

Athletic however, were unfazed by the Catalan’s firepower as Aduriz continued his fine form by stooping unmarked to head home Raul Garcia’s cross in a sweeping counterattack on 25 minutes.

Things got better for the hosts minutes later when in the midst of a homage to their defender Yeray Alvarez who was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer, they struck again.

Williams, the subject of a bidding war from top European sides, smashed home a half-volley from Aduriz’s neat backheeled layoff with Barca defence all over the place.

Barca players were livid in first-half stoppage time when referee David Fernandez Borbalan somehow failed to point to the spot after Neymar was hacked down by Borja Etxeita.

But the referee gave a decision Barca’s way after the break, though, when he adjudged Messi’s free-kick to have crossed the line despite Gorka Iraizoz’s best efforts to keep it out.

Iraizoz was called into action moments later as he tipped over a dangerously dipping effort from Neymar with Barca upping the tempo.

Ernesto Velverde’s men were soon reduced to nine men in their efforts to contain the onslaught from the Catalans, Garcia and then Ander Iturraspe getting their marching orders after seeing second yellow cards for late challenges on Neymar.

More Messi magic nearly drew Barca level as he danced past two defenders before a desperate tackle from Mikel San Jose prevented the Argentine from pulling the trigger at range.

And in the dying seconds Messi smashed a loose ball inside the area off the inside of the post as nine-man Bilbao held on for the win.

The return leg will be played on January 11, at the Camp Nou.

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