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Messi’s First Red Card Highlights Barcelona’s Frustrations In Athletic Bilbao’s Win


BEVERLY HILLS, January 18, (THEWILL) – In the Spanish Super Cup loss to Athletic Club Bilbao on Sunday, Lionel Messi’s red card at the very end of extra time was an apt snapshot of the general collapse of the entire team game plan and frustration of the players in search of a morale-boosting silverware to atone for last season’s disappointing domestic and European campaigns.

When the Barcelona talisman lost his cool and hit an opponent in an uncharacteristic off-the-ball act of indiscipline, all the signs of another thwarted effort at banishing the trophyless cobwebs that are considered forbidden artefacts of a club of Barca’s stature were apparent, even as they were no excuses for the behaviour of the talented Argentine.

What made Messi’s exasperation even more obvious was that Barcelona had little chance of recovering when he swung his right arm toward the head of Athletic’s striker Asier Villalibre. A brief VAR check was all referee Jesus Gil needed to award Messi his first ever red card in Barcelona colours.

In the hotly-contested final at the La Cartuja Stadium in Seville, Athletic’s Inaki Williams netted three minutes into extra time to secure for his side its third Super Cup title. It just so happens that the last time they triumphed in the competition in 2015, their final victory was also against Barcelona.

Their victory in Sunday effectively denied Barcelona its 15th Super Cup title. A win for the Catalan side could have seen them claim their third in the last five seasons in what could have brought an end to a title drought after coming up empty last season. It was their brightest opportunity to make sure of some silverware this season and avoid going two straight campaigns with nothing to show for both, something that last happened in the 2007/2008 period.

Hopes at the domestic league front are not so promising as la Blaugrana got off to a slow start this season and trails defending champions Real Madrid and the progressively efficient Atletico Madrid, who have two games in hand, in the Spanish league. Though, the men from the Camp Nou have picked up steam, the path to the summit of La Liga still remains fraught with obstacles that their form is not encouraging against.

Questions will be asked of Barca coach Ronald Koeman’s decision to play Messi for the final as the forward had been doubtful to play because of an unspecified fitness issue that had caused him to be left out of the semi-final against Real Sociedad on Wednesday, when Barcelona prevailed in a penalty shootout.

Even as Messi was instrumental in the set up to forward Antoine Griezmann’s first goal in Sunday’s final, his overall performance was far from his best throughout the match, measured against the very high standards that he has consistently set for himself. In that act of lashing out which earned him his debut sending off, this frustration with his general game was most obvious.

The mettle of the Athletic side is not in doubt. To qualify for the final, they defeated the Super Cup defending champions Real Madrid 2-1 in the other semi-final. They took it one step further on Sunday to scale over Spain’s next football power of note after Madrid.

Coincidentally, it was only the third match in charge for new Athletic coach Marcelino Garcia Toral. In his debut, he faced Koeman’s side in a league game at home. In that match, while he prayed against a Messi masterclass, Messi delivered a season performance with two goals to help the Catalan club recover from an early goal by Williams and win by three goals to two.

The credit must therefore be accorded to the resilience, discipline and execution of the games by the Athletic club’s players and the game plan mapped out by the coaching crew for the team to see out tough opponents like Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid and Barcelona’s Messi. They worked hard for their trophy and deserve the exhilaration of lifting it for themselves and their fans.

This year’s final venue was moved to southern Spain as the coronavirus pandemic prevented a second-straight hosting at a Saudi Arabian venue. To cater for the congested football calendar, a revamp of the tournament’s Final Four format has seen the inclusion of the top two finishers in the Spanish league and the finalists of the Copa del Rey from the previous season compete for the Cup with the semi-finals and finals played as a single game rather than an aggregate over two legs.

In the end, Messi’s first red card came in his 753rd appearance with Barcelona. Although, he had previously been sent off twice, both times he was representing his country Argentina. His first ever was a rude welcoming on his international debut for Argentina in 2005.

His second, in 2019, came in the Copa America third-place match against Chile. Messi received a $1,500 fine for the controversial sending off and was suspended for one match. First or not, the card this time could mean that Messi faces disciplinary action that could result in a lengthy suspension. And that will only add to the frustrations at the Nou Camp.