Barcelona’s two-year reign of the Copa del Rey was in jeopardy after it lost to a nine-man Athletic Bilbao 2-1 at a packed San Mames Stadium on Thursday.
Athletic played a man down from the 74th minute, and two men down from the 80th because of red cards in a drama-filled first-leg match in the round of 16. Aritz Aduriz scored and set up another goal in the first half for Athletic, and Lionel Messi scored for Barcelona from a free kick early in the second half. Messi hit the post from inside the area three minutes into stoppage time, and Paco Alcacer missed the open net off the rebound.
“We reacted well and deserved a draw for all the chances we created,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “We just lacked that touch of precision in front of the goal.”
Athletic beat Barcelona for only the third time in 32 matches over the last 10 years. In that period, Barcelona has beaten Athletic in three Copa del Rey finals, won their last three league matches, and won both legs of their quarterfinal matchup last year.
But a draw next week in the second leg at Camp Nou will be enough to send Athletic to the quarterfinals.