Madrid: Lionel Messi struck five minutes from time to hand Barcelona a vital 1-0 lead heading into the second leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final with Atletico Madrid.
Atletico looked set to round off a fine day for the club after the confirmation that Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin will spend 45 million euros ($52 million) for 20 percent of the club by holding out for a 0-0 draw.
Lionel Messi. Pic/ AFP
However, Juanfran was penalised for kicking Sergio Busquets inside the area late on and Messi was relieved to slot home at the second attempt after seeing his penalty saved by Jan Oblak.
The two sides will meet again at the Vicente Calderon in Madrid on Wednesday, January 28. Fernando Torres was paired once more with Antoine Griezmann up front for Atletico after the pair combined to allow Torres to score in the opening minute of each half as they secured a 4-2 aggregate win over Real Madrid in the last 16 last week.
However, just like in their league meeting 10 days ago, it was Barca who made a fast start this time and Atletico 'keeper Oblak was forced into a fine save to turn Neymar's curling effort behind after just four minutes. Atletico weathered the early storm without any more scares, though, and grew into the game as it wore on.
Torres saw a low shot deflect wide off Gerard Pique, whilst Guilherme Siqueira's cross from the left was just too high for Griezmann as the Frenchman's header sailed harmlessly over. Barca's best chance of the opening half arrived 10 minutes before the break when Ivan Rakitic's ball into the box landed at the feet of Luis Suarez, but he somehow blazed over with just Oblak to beat from point-blank range.
Torres then failed to find Griezmann as he gifted the ball to Pique to end a promising break and that was to be the former Chelsea striker's last involvement as he was replaced at half-time by Mario Mandzukic. A similar pattern ensued after the break as Barca enjoyed plenty of possession without being able to create too many clear-cut chances against the well-organised ranks of Atletico defence.
Oblak was alert to a low drive by Andres Iniesta from the edge of the area, but Barca's frustrations began to bubble over as both Suarez and Javier Mascherano were booked for taking the protests towards the referee too far. However, Jose Luis Gonzalez rightly pointed to the spot when Busquets was upended by Juanfran seven minutes from time and despite a fine save by Oblak to stop Messi's penalty, the Argentine followed-up to slot home the rebound.
Barca could have taken an even greater advantage to the Calderon had Miranda not got a touch to divert a Messi cross towards Neymar into Oblak's grateful arms moments later.