Suarez Opens Way to Final

Suarez Opens Way to FinalSuarez Opens Way to Final

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez teamed up to deliver a tough 1-0 victory to Barcelona over Valencia in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal on Friday at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.

The Uruguayan striker scored the lone goal in the 66th minute thanks to a beautifully weighted pass from the Argentine to give Barcelona a slim advantage heading into next week’s leg at the Mestalla, Marca reported.

It was a tight, physical contest between the two teams, with Valencia taking a page out of Espanyol and Alaves’ book, using a defensive-heavy plan to stymie the heralded Barcelona attack. It worked enough to limit the Catalonians to a single score, leaving the tie wide open.

Alexi Vidal got a rare start in manager Ernesto Valverde’s midfield, but otherwise the visitors’ starting XI was pretty much at full-strength.

Whether it was a lack of spectators in the stands or the accumulation of matches since the start of the year, Barcelona looked a step slow coming out of the gates. Still, the team was in full control as Valencia was happy to sit back and keep its defensive shape in exchange for possession.

Barcelona was not having any success unlocking the Valencia defense. Both Messi and Suarez cut isolated figures, and anytime either one of them had the ball at their feet, they were surrounded by three or four white shirts.

Los Che’s defensive posture made it nearly impossible for them to break on the counter and any time the ball even got near midfield, Sergio Busquets or Jordi Alba was there to win it back.

Toward the end of the half, Barcelona looked as if they would finally breach the Valencia back line when Andres Iniesta played a ball across in front of goal that was tipped by Valencia goalkeeper Jaume, but it was just out of reach for the lunging Suarez.

After parking the bus in the first-half, Valencia took a more aggressive tack to start the second-half, which opened up the contest. The visitors were getting runs deep into the Barcelona half but lacked any type of finishing touch to trouble goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.

Valverde looked to his bench for a spark, switching off Vidal for Philippe Coutinho, but it was the trusted Alba-Messi connection that would yield the game’s first goal. Iniesta fed Alba down the left, who played a ball down the end-line to Messi and the Argentine artfully floated a pass over six Valencia players for Suarez to head in at the far post for the 1-0 lead.

Barcelona fancied a second in order to cushion their advantage ahead of next week’s return leg in the Mestalla and Messi flirted with his first goal of the night when his curling free kick flew just over the crossbar. Substitute Paco Alcacer was next, with a volley from 30-plus yards out that Jaume had to be alert to save.

In the end, Barcelona had to settle for the one-goal win, as their thoughts now turn back to La Liga play with another derby against city rivals Espanyol.

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