Lionel Messi challenges Fernando Reges during the Spanish Copa del Rey semi-final first leg football match. AFP
Taking advantage of a quiet game from Lionel Messi in his 900th career match, Sevilla defeated Barcelona 2-0 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals on Wednesday.
Messi squandered a couple of chances as Sevilla won its eighth consecutive match in all competitions thanks to a goal by Jules Koundé in the first half and another by former Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic near the end.
The second leg will be on Feb. 27 at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona. Athletic Bilbao hosts Levante on Thursday in the first leg of the other semifinal.
Sevilla and Barcelona entered the semis as the hottest teams in Spain. The Catalan club was coming off six straight wins in all competitions.
The teams played in the Copa final in 2016 and 2018, with Barcelona coming out on top both times. The Catalan club is trying to make it to its ninth final in 11 years. It made it to the last four nine straight times before being eliminated by Athletic in the quarterfinals last season.
Barcelona controlled possession but it struggled to create many significant chances at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán Stadium, with Sevilla goalkeeper Bono stopping the few efforts he faced. Sevilla constantly threatened on counterattacks, especially after opening the scoring in the first half.
Messi, making his 758th appearance with Barcelona to add to his 142 with Argentina, commanded the attack but failed to capitalize on his chances, including one with only Bono to beat in the 11th minute. He nearly scored with a stoppage-time free kick that again was stopped by Bono.
Messi had been rested in the Spanish league game against Real Betis on Sunday, when he came off the bench in the second half to lead the team to a come-from-behind victory.
Koundé put Sevilla ahead in the 25th with a nice run that culminated with him slipping the ball in between the legs of Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti before shooting into the net from inside the area.
Rakitic sealed the victory in an 85th-minute breakaway, beating goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen with a shot into the top of the net. The midfielder didn't celebrate the goal against his former club.
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman was without three players because of injuries - Martin Braithwaite, Sergiño Dest and Miralem Pjanic. Sevilla’s Julen Lopetegui was without injured players Lucas Ocampos and Jesús Navas.
The Argentina star has already been ruled out of the team's trip to Florida for a one-off friendly against Napoli in Miami on Wednesday.
La Liga president Javier Tebas has said he was never seriously worried about the impact on the league if Lionel Messi had left Barcelona this summer. Messi admitted defeat on Friday in his attempt to find a way out of Barca,
Lionel Messi was on the double for Barcelona on Wednesday in a 3-2 win over Athletic Bilbao, prompting coach Ronald Koeman to say his team can still win La Liga. Messi’s brace helped Barca reduce the gap behind league leaders Atletico Madrid to seven points,
Barcelona’s poor finances have become the stumbling block to getting Lionel Messi to sign another contract, according to club president Joan Laporta. Messi was officially no longer a Barcelona player on Thursday, following the expiration of his contract.
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