By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor
It is often said that penalties are a lottery. But Sevilla goalkeeper Javi Varas debunked that myth on Saturday night at Camp Nou as he saved a last-gasp spot-kick from Lionel Messi. "I knew where he was going to put it," the 29-year-old said. "I had studied it."
Sevilla had kept out Barca for 90 minutes, largely thanks to an inspired contribution from Varas, but the keeper would face the greatest of tests in added time after Federico Fazio was adjudged to have fouled Andres Iniesta in the box.
A four-minute delay ensued as Sevilla's players protested. Frederic Kanoute was booked for nudging the ball off its spot and then sent off for grabbing Cesc Fabregas around the neck and starting a brawl in midfield.
All of that may have distracted Messi, but it didn't deter Varas, who dived low to his left and parried the Argentine's shot away from goal with both hands to frustrate the Catalans and, most of all, Messi.
Spot of bother | Diego Lopez was the first keeper to save a Messi penalty
Varas, along with Sevilla's goalkeeping coach Javi Garcia, had studied all of Messi's 21 penalties for Barca prior to the match on Saturday. And they had discovered an interesting tendency: the Argentine had shot to his right 15 times out of 21, including seven of the last eight spot-kicks.
All of those seven had hit the back of the net, while the other one - against Betis in January - had flown over the crossbar. The Argentine had also missed two of the five he had sent towards the left side, a far inferior conversion rate to the two in 15 he had failed to net when shooting to his right, and the keeper's left.
Varas knew, then, that Messi would be likely to opt for his favoured corner on Saturday, especially in a moment of high tension. And so it proved as the Argentine, although brilliant throughout the match, was left with a sour taste after squandering a glorious match-winning opportunity right at the end as Barca failed to go back above bitter adversaries Real Madrid, who had thrashed Malaga earlier on in the evening.
Messi has taken 22 penalties for Barcelona and missed six, although he was lucky enough to be able to pounce on the rebound for one of those, in the 1-0 win over lowly Benidorm in late 2008.
LIONEL MESSI | THE MISSED PENALTIES
That was one of three misses in the Copa del Rey. Leo also saw a spot-kick saved by Diego Lopez in the quarter-finals of the tournament's previous edition, in January of the same year, but Barca won that game 1-0 anyway to advance to the last four. Messi's miss at Betis in the 3-1 quarter-final second leg defeat last season also mattered little as the Catalans had triumphed 5-0 in the first match.
The Argentine also erred in the 5-1 victory over Panathinaikos in the Champions League in 2010 and against Recreativo Huelva in a 2-0 league success back in Pep Guardiola's first season, when he shared the spot-kick duties with Samuel Eto'o.
This season, Leo and Barca have complained as their penalty appeals have been turned down in La Liga. It is perhaps ironic, then, that when they finally are awarded a spot-kick in the Primera Division, Messi misses it. None of the Argentine's previous five failures had affected the result, but this one did.
The 24-year-old has now failed to scored six out of 22, a conversion rate of just over 72 per cent. And that, for a team like Barca and a player such as Messi, is simply not good enough. So finally something to improve on, Leo ...
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