Luis Suarez scored the best goal of his Barcelona career so far and Lionel Messi added a brilliant second but Atletico Madrid fought back to keep the Copa del Rey semi-final alive into next week’s second leg.
Barcelona are favourites to reach the final and Suarez’s first will live long in the memory but once again Diego Simone’s side showed they never know when they are beaten pulling a goal back from Antoine Griezmann.
Suarez was just inside the Atletico Madrid half when he received the ball for the opening goal. Mascherano had won it deep in midfield for Barcelona and it ran to Suarez. He had space to take it into his stride on the turn first giving Diego Godin the slip and then running at Godin’s defensive partner Stefan Savic.
He nonchalantly nudged it one side of him and ran the other. He was home free now, galloping towards goal. Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Miguel Moya barely had time to come out and try to close the angle before he nudged the ball past him with the outside of his right foot.
He long since smashed the Barca scoring records of two of the club’s greatest No 9s – Ronaldo and Romario. Here was a goal that had the best of both strikers. It was Ronaldo’s thunder thighs charge at goal and it was a deft touch to finish worthy of Romario.
It was nearly 2-0 moments later when Suarez took a long kick down the pitch from Jasper Cillessen and tried to feed Messi but Neymar intercepted and failed to finish.
When the move was repeated in the next attack it did bring the second goal. Suarez was again the target from Cillessen. This time he crossed to Ivan Rakitic and he found Messi who dribbled inside and smashed a shot in off the inside of Moya’s right-hand upright. The frame of the goal shook and the Calderon fell almost silent save the 400 or so travelling Barcelona supporters.
Suarez gave Cillenssen the thumbs-up: the long boot down pitch was not exactly tiki-taka but it was proving very effective.
Atletico were glad to make it to half-time only 2-0 down. Suarez had his 22nd goal of the season and Messi had his 30th.
Suarez and Messi had made one of Europe’s best defences look very average and their own rearguard had been impeccable, with Samuel Umtiti putting Antoine Griezmann in his pocket in the first few minutes and keeping him their throughout.
That changed drastically after the break and it was the Frenchman who popped up in the six-yard box to head Atletico Madrid back into the game.
A long free-kick forward found Godin and he headed it across the face of the goal for Griezmann to finish. Godin only had a free-header because Suarez was dragged back by Koke as he tried to track the defender’s run. It was foul but Atletico had got away with it and they were back in the game.
Simeone was now conducting the Vicente Calderon and urging them to get behind his players. Neymar fouled Koke and was booked ruling him out of the second leg. Griezmann had another chance but Cillenssen saved at point blank to keep Barca ahead.
Barcelona were as bad in the second half as they had been good in the first. But they still had Messi.
He took a free-kick on the edge of area and it was goal all the way until Moya pulled off a miraculous save, pushing the ball over the bar. Messi then set up Neymar but he ballooned over.
At the other end, the substitutes were missing chances. Kevin Gameiro volleyed wide after Cillessen had thrown the ball out straight to the opposition.
Torres then flicked the ball just wide. He then galloped away from Pique on the halfway line and when the defender dived to win a foul Diego Simeone threw himself down in his technical area in despair.
Atletico could not find the equalizer but it still seemed they had come back from the dead right to fight another day next Tuesday in the second leg.