Messi free kick puts Barcelona in Copa del Rey quarter-finals

MADRID: Lionel Messi came through for Barcelona again, scoring with a perfectly struck free kick to give the defending champions a 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao and a spot in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Messi fired a remarkable low strike into the right corner in the 78th minute at Camp Nou to help the Catalan club reverse a 2-1 first-leg loss and advance 4-3 on aggregate.

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 Argentina 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.

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.

He almost added another after getting past several defenders with beautiful moves inside the area in the 80th, but his close-range shot struck the post.

Neymar had helped Barcelona open the scoring in the 35th with a perfect cross for Suarez's remarkable volley from the right side of the area. The Uruguay striker timed his shot perfectly, sending a low drive into the far corner for his 300th goal with Barcelona.

The team's attacking trio of Suarez, Messi and Neymar have scored 302 goals in total since they started playing together.

Barcelona is seeking its third straight Copa title, and 28th overall.

"Our team played well, we had the calm to create our scoring opportunities," Luis Enrique said. "They scored with the only chance they had."

On Tuesday, Atletico Madrid became the first team to reach the quarter-finals despite a 3-2 home loss to Las Palmas. Diego Simeone's team advanced 4-3 on aggregate after a 2-0 first leg win in the Canary Islands.

Real Madrid will defend a 3-0 first-leg win when it plays at Sevilla on Thursday.

Also advancing

In the matchup between the second-division clubs left in the competition, Alcorcon advanced thanks to a come-from-behind 2-1 victory at Cordoba after a 0-0 draw in the first leg, while Real Sociedad drew 1-1 at Villarreal to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Alaves held on to a 1-1 home draw against Deportivo La Coruna to advance on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate score, reaching the quarter-finals for the first time since 2003-2004. Alaves, which made it to the semi-finals that season, played most of the second half with 10 men.