Barcelona were eliminated from the Copa del Rey on Thursday as Ferran Torres’ first goal for the club failed to avert a 3-2 extra-time defeat to Athletic Bilbao.
The image of an obviously angry Ansu Fati limping off hurt in the second half of normal time at San Mames added to Barca’s disappointment.
Fati returned earlier this month after a two-month layoff due to a hamstring injury, and in September after a ten-month layoff due to a knee ailment.
Fati’s return to the bench would be a major setback for Barca’s chances of finishing in the top four in La Liga. Pedri also requested that he be allowed to leave in additional time.
Real Madrid also required an extra 30 minutes to beat Elche 2-1, with Eden Hazard scoring the goal after Marcelo’s red card forced La Liga’s leaders to fight back from behind with ten men.
Isco equalized after Elche took the lead through Gonzalu Verdu.”It may be that Hazard and Isco deserve to play more,” stated Carlo Ancelotti. “I’m confident that I can rely on them.”
Barcelona had hoped to join Real Madrid in the last eight, but Athletic advances instead, joining Madrid, Real Sociedad, Mallorca, Rayo Vallecano, Cadiz, Valencia, and Real Betis in Friday’s draw.
Madrid will be strong favorites, especially after Sevilla’s elimination at the hands of Real Betis, who are now posing the greatest threat to Ancelotti’s side winning their first Copa del Rey since 2014, during Ancelotti’s first term as coach.
Last season, Barca won the Copa del Rey, and defending their championship this season was their greatest chance at silverware.
They have faded from view in La Liga and were defeated by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup last week, leaving the Europa League as their last realistic option for a trophy.
“They’ve out-intensified us,” Xavi Hernandez stated. “We need to change the dynamic because we always get tails when it’s heads or tails. You must work hard and be courageous.”
Iker Muniain made San Mames ecstatic by collecting Nico Williams’ cross at the back post before turning and bending into the far corner after only 102 seconds had passed.
Late in the game, Inaki Williams hit the crossbar with a long-range effort, but the real drama was still to come. Inigo Martinez pushed in at the back post ahead of the falling Gerard Pique in the 86th minute, giving Athletic the lead.
Barcelona, though, found a way back in the 93rd, as Dani Alves bicycle-kicked Jordi Alba’s cross back into the area and Pedri’s hit on the stretch was too powerful for Julen Agirrezabala’s right hand.
Barca celebrated as if it had won, but there was still extra time and injuries to come. Fati left, and Pedri requested to go.
Then, in the 103rd minute, a sliding Alba stopped Nico Williams’ cross with his right arm, and Jose Munuera pointed to the spot after consulting the replay. Muniain shot left, Ter Stegen dived right.
Hazard had earlier scored his first goal for Real Madrid in eight months as Madrid beat Elche in a remarkable comeback with ten men.
In recent months, the Belgian has been fit but on the outside of Ancelotti’s lineup, and he even started this cup game on the bench.
However, the 31-year-old came in for extra time and will be hoping that his victory is the start of a comeback in the second half of the season.