Barcelona took another step towards an improbable triple on Tuesday as they reached their fourth straight Copa del Rey final as they draw 1-1 with Atletico Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate.
It was a mixed night for Luis Suarez, whose crucial away goal saw Barcelona advance, but the striker will miss the final after being sent off in the dramatic semi-final.
Luis Enrique’s side finished with nine men after both Suarez and Sergi Roberto were sent off. Atletico Madrid also had Yannick Carrasco sent off and were lucky not to lose Filipe Luis too after he scythed down Lionel Messi.
There was a missed penalty and confrontations between the two benches as the two old sparring partners did not disappoint in an epic struggle.
After the final whistle, Suarez labelled his sending off on Tuesday night laughable and said he hopes it will be overturned allowing him to play in the Copa del Rey final.
The Uruguayan was shown a second yellow card for what looked like an innocuous challenge on Lucas Hernandez.
‘I just turned and jumped,’ said the forward. ‘I don’t even think it was a foul. I hope we can appeal the decision.
‘I’m laughing at the decision. It seems like it was what he wanted. We know how this goes. You could see it coming.
‘The first card was for my first foul of the game and the second card was for nothing.’
Suarez had scored the first half goal that in effect sends Barcelona into the final. It was his fifth in five games.
He added: ‘I think we deserve to be in the final. We knew we would have to suffer right until the end in this type of game against a team like Atletico.’
Luis Enrique added:
‘I will have to sit down and watch the whole game again at home to really comment on everything that happened.
‘They were dangerous from the start but my team stood up to them and we deserve to be in the final.’
Diego Simeone could not have picked a more attacking side and the plan to get at Barcelona in the first half worked almost perfectly – all that was missing was the most important thing: the goal.
Carrasco cut inside and tested Jasper Cillessen with a shot to set the tone and when Antoine Griezmann flicked on a corner Stefan Savic had the chance to head past Cillessen but the keeper made another save.
Barcelona had not started well but far from being happy Simeone was fuming because he knew his team were not taking advantage. Koke was the next to test Cillessen with a shot but still the visitors – 2-1 down from the first leg – could not score.
Sergi Roberto had been targeted from the first whistle and he was booked, the long balls in behind him increased.
For Barcelona, Suarez was stirring and he got the crowd going by chasing down Diego Godin whose back pass was kicked out of play by panicking Atletico keeper Miguel Moya.
Messi was then fortunate not to be booked after he appeared to dive and realizing what he had done held his hand up to at least admit it had not been a foul. He was well aware that a yellow on the night would mean he would miss the final.
Soon he was dribbling Barcelona into the final. The famous Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano once wrote: ‘They used to say that Maradona ran with the ball tied to his foot; Messi appears to have the ball inside his foot, which is scientifically impossible.’
It seemed that way when he slalomed through Atletico’s defence two minutes before the break. Moya saved his subsequent shot but he pushed the ball out to worst possible place – right into the path of the on-rushing Suarez who scored from the rebound.
Atletico still needed to score two goals but to concede so late was so tough on them. They had set their stall out impressively in the first half but with one gust of force nine Suarez it had blown flat to the ground.
Things went from bad to worse for Atletico when Godin and Gaitan both hobbled off – the latter after inadvertently fouling team-mate Griezmann. Barcelona, with a very strong bench that included Iniesta, ready for minutes at some point, now had the upper hand but they gave Atletico Madrid a way back into the game when Sergi Roberto picked up a second yellow card.
He had suffered all night picking up a first half caution in the process and just as Enrique was about to take him off as a precaution, replacing him with Aleix Vidal in a like for like swap, he went in studs up on Luis and the second yellow was out.
It was the night of his 25th birthday and he had received two cards from the referee. The coach did not see the funny side, the prepared-substitute had to sit down again and Atletico sensed their chance.
Almost immediately Griezmann had the ball in the net for his first goal ever at the Nou Camp but the linesman had incorrectly adjudged it offside and he raised his flag. Nothing was going for Simeone and his team.
Things soon evened up when Carrasco went through Arda Turan, not for the first time on the night, and picked up a second yellow too – 10 against 10.
Then Barcelona brought on their final two substitutions of the night. There was a huge roar for Busquets and an even bigger one for Iniesta. There was still drama left in the game – a pitch invader ran on towards Messi and gave three stewards the slip, one literally, and then Gerard Pique slipped, crashing into Gameiro and conceding the penalty.
Gameiro took the spot-kick himself but with the chance to level on the night he hit the bar. He made amends of sorts when he scored from Griezmann’s pass with six minutes left but Atletico still needed another goal.
Suarez was then shown his second yellow and Luis should have followed him down the tunnel after perhaps the worst challenge of the night on Messi.
The Barcelona bench erupted at the injustice. And then with joy as the final whistle was blown.