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Messi Whips Barca Into Quarter Finals: Barcelona 3-1 Athletic Club

Barcelona Athletic Copa Del Rey
BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona scores his team's third goal during the Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on January 11, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Yet another heroic Lionel Messi free-kick saved Barcelona as the Argentine’s 80th minute strike saw him guide his team past a stubborn Athletic Club Bilbao and into the Copa Del Rey Quarter Finals after a 3-1 win at the Camp Nou.

It was Messi’s third decisive free kick goal in the last three Barcelona matches. In addition to scoring in the first leg against Athletic, the playmaker saved Barcelona from a loss in the Spanish league on Sunday by finding the net with a 90th-minute free kick at Villarreal.

“Messi was decisive, as always,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “I hope he can stay with us for many years, there is no one better than him.”

Neymar scored in the second half — ending a goal drought of nearly three months — after setting up a brilliant scissor kick goal by Luis Suarez in the first half.

Athletic scored a goal that could have taken the game into extra time with a firm header by Enric Saborit in the 51st, making it 2-1 on the night.

But Messi’s strike from the edge of the area kept his team alive in Spain’s second-most important club competition after the league.

Just like he did against Villarreal, Messi caught the goalkeeper wrong-footed by sending his shot away from the wall. His left-foot strike barely left the ground before dropping into the bottom corner. The ball hit the post before crossing the line.

It was Messi’s 26th free kick goal for Barcelona, tying Ronald Koeman’s record for the club. It was also the first time Messi had netted free kick goals in three consecutive matches.

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Neymar ended an 11-game scoreless streak — his worst since joining Barcelona three years ago — by converting a 48th-minute penalty kick. It was the first goal for the Brazil striker since a game against Manchester City in the group stage of the Champions League in October.

Athletic didn’t seem too worried about an extra 30 minutes. Keeper Iraizoz continued to take an age with every goal-kick to the extent where Neymar put the ball down on the spot for him in an attempt to hurry him along.

It didn’t matter because Messi sent his free-kick past Iraizoz. He has now scored three goals in 2017 – all from free-kicks. Athletic were out, and left wishing they had not wasted so much time.

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