Sports

Athletic downs Barca for La Liga title on great goal by Williams

Sevilla, Spain, Jan 17 (efe-epa).- A spectacular goal by Athletic Bilbao’s Iñaki Williams in injury time was the gamewinner in Spain’s Super Cup La Liga championship on Sunday and the Catalan squad was unable to overcome its rival’s 3-2 lead during a 30-minute overtime, thus handing the Super Cup to the Basque squad before empty stands at Sevilla’s La Cartuja Stadium.

Among the other noteworthy events of the evening was Barcelona striker Leo Messi’s expulsion on a straight red card after attacking Asier Villalibre, who did not even have the ball.

The cup-winning shot was fired by Williams as soon as he entered the area, past Barca goaltender Marc Andrew Ter Stegen, hitting the post and ricocheting into the twine.

That was the tally that definitively unbalanced the Catalan team, although Villalibre had erased Barca’s lead in the 90th minute on a free kick, tying things up at 2-2.

Antoine Griezmann had gotten Barca on the board first in the 40th minute, but just two minutes later after a superb pass from Williams it was De Marcos who put the teams even again. After the break, it was back and forth until the 77th minute, when Griezmann once again put Barcelona on top only to see that lead cancelled just moments into injury time by Villalibre and then eliminated for good on Williams’ fabulous shot three minutes later.

Once overtime commenced, the two teams battled evenly for another 30 minutes without result, although Barca fought increasingly desperately for the tying tally.

Griezmann once again had a prime chance to tie things up in the 111th minute but muffed the shot due to his bad right leg.

Ultimately, when it looked like getting back to even was not in the cards, Messi – normally cool and focused – let his frustration boil over in the 120th minute and attacked Villalibre, without the ball nearby, only to be sent from the pitch on the red card.

Bilbao had gotten into the final by eliminating defending champion Real Madrid in a 2-1 contest last Thursday, the winning tallies both coming from Raul Garcia.

The final was just the third match with Marcelino Garcia Toral at the helm for Athletic, after making his debut against Barca in regular La Liga action last week at home. In that match, Messi had contributed two goals in Barca’s comeback 3-2 win, with Williams being the one who had gotten Athletic on the board first.

Messi had been doubtful for the final due to injury but Marcelino had said that “We must go into the match thinking that (Messi) will play and that he will play at his best … it is our job to stop him. My players are fired up and ready to conquer the world.”

The win was Bilbao’s third Super Cup, having beaten Barcelona for the title in 2015. At that time, the final was still a two-leg contest between the winners of the league and the Copa del Rey.

This season’s Super Cup was held in Sevilla because the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the match in Saudi Arabia for the second time in a row.

Now, the revised semifinal round is played between the two top La Liga teams and the finalists of the Copa del Rey from the prior season.

Lineups:

Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Dest (Mingueza, m.46), Araujo, Lenglet (Trincao, m.115), Alba; De Jong, Busquets (Riqui Puig, m.97), Pedri (Pjanic, m.88); Dembele (Braithwaite, m.88), Messi, Griezmann.

Athletic: Unai Simon; Capa (Berenguer, m.80), Yeray, Iñigo Martinez (Unai Nuñez, m.95), Balenziaga (Lekue, m.83); De Marcos, Vencedor (Mikel Vesga, m.80), Dani Garcia, Muniain; Raul Garcia (Villalibre, m.83), Williams (Morcillo, m.115).

Referee: Jesus Gil Manzano handed a straight red card to Messi in the 120th minute for attacking Villalibre after a VAR and videoscreen consultation. He also showed yellow cards to Barcelona’s Lenglet and Jordi Alba and to Athletic’s Dani Garcia, Villalibre and Morcillo.

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