The Spanish champions edge into the last eight courtesy of an unlikely source.Eric Abidal's second goal of his career allowed Barcelona to progress past Athletic Bilbao after the sides drew 1-1 in the Basque country this evening, in what was at times a tempestuous contest.
The French defender recovered from being hit from an object thrown from the stands to slam home the opening goal, and despite Fernando Llorente's late leveller, the Catalans were able to scrape their way into a meeting with either Getafe or Betis in the quarter-finals.
The San Mames was positively alive, with the irrepressible backing from the home support driving their side into every challenge, and with their excellent 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou in the first-leg before the winter break, the Basques knew any kind of victory would be enough to see them progress to the last eight.
Pep Guardiola’s side, with Carles Puyol and Andres Iniesta on the bench, enjoyed the majority of the possession in the opening forty-five minutes, however, but found creating opportunities a difficult task. Despite the return of Lionel Messi to the starting line-up after the Argentine enjoyed a break in the weekend win over Levante, Pedro was, as has been the case recently, the Blaugrana’s most dangerous player in the early stages.
On seven minutes he was involved in the move that led to David Villa being left unmarked on the six yard line, but he somehow managed to head straight at Gorka Iraizoz. If El Guaje had directed his effort either side of the keeper, it would certainly have found the net.
Pedro and Messi linked well before the break, with the former curling an effort wide of the target, but Bilbao stood firm, and their organisation, work-rate and pressing skills made life uncomfortable for the 2009 winners.
Then, at the start of the second half, came an unsavoury incident that blighted an otherwise enthralling atmosphere. Eric Abidal sunk to his knees as Bilbao prepared to take a corner, and TV replays showed that the Frenchman had been struck on the temple by a coin thrown from the crowd.
Mercifully, the defender was able to continue, and in a bizarre twist, it was he who would sensationally decide the tie.
At the age of 31, Abidal had once netted in the French cup before tonight, but he was perfectly positioned at the left of the area to run on to Messi’s neat pass into his path and side-foot home through the legs of Iraizoz. It was a curious twist of fate, and one that meant Bilbao needed to strike twice to progress.
But to the credit of Joaquin Caparros' side, they were able to set up a manic finish. Substitute De Marcos slipped the ball into the path of the prolific Fernando Llorente, who took a touch and toe-poked superbly into the corner. Five minutes remained, and the crowd roared.
But they had left their comeback just too late, and Barcelona were able to weather the storm to sneak into the last eight, but they were made to fight all the way for their place.
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