Football Features

“The Colossus of Catalunya” stands tall – Winners and Losers as Barcelona complete historic 3-0 Copa del Rey comeback vs. Sevilla

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:57, 3 March 2021

In another breathless night of football, Barcelona beat Sevilla 3-0 to qualify for the Copa del Rey final.

After losing the first leg 2-0 in Andalucia, the Blaugrana knew the task ahead of them was enormous. But they didn’t shrink from the challenge and instead rose to meet it head on with a dynamic and daring display and a history comeback. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Martin Braithwaite

When Barcelona signed Martin Braithwaite it was treated as a bit of a joke. This is not the calibre of player Barcelona ought to be signing, after all! But Braithwaite is hard-working and humble, and has been studying with coach Henrik Larsson on the finer points of being the kind of orthodox no. 9 that can succeed at Barcelona.

And today, we saw a fantastic example of just what he can bring. Brought on in the 88th minute as some kind of desperate hail mary, he had the desired impact when, in extra time, he made a deadly near-post run and guided a superb header down low through the goalkeepers legs and into the back of the net. The ball trickled agonisingly over the line but they all count and this one especially as it was the goal that, against all odds, lifted the Blaugrana to their 10th Copa del Rey final in the last 13 years.

Loser: Lucas Ocampos

When Lucas Ocampos came onto the field, his introduction gave Sevilla an added level of threat on the break that, combined with some of Barcelona’s subs, immediately hung the Sword of Damocles over the Barcelona goal. And sure enough 10 minutes after coming on Ocampos made a great forward run to help Youssef En-Nesyri on a counter, took the ball into the Barcelona box and won a penalty.

This was it, the definitive chance to end the tie. But when Ocampos stepped up with his trademark “no-look” shot from the spot he rolled a gentle backpass into the grateful arms of Marc-André Ter Stegen. And for a while it looked like he might get away with it, but when Gerard Piqué headed in that 94th minute equaliser, Ocampos knew he’d wrecked his club’s chance at glory.

Winner: Gerard Piqué

Gerard Piqué suffered serious ligament damage in November that, by all rights, should have ended his season. Still, at age 34 he fought back to recover in record time in order to be ready for the PSG tie in Europe only to watch Clement Lenglet give up three goals to the Parisians.

Piqué refused to quit, however, and they will go again Paris. Nor did he cede defeat in La Liga, and the Copa del Rey too. It remains to be seen how the other two challenges fare but in terms of the Copa, Piqué more than played his part in the remontada.

In defence he was a colossus, repeatedly rebuffing the Sevilla counter-attacks and organising his back-line almost impeccably. And then when the Blaugrana needed a hero at the other end, who else but their captain without an armband, their president without a mandate, stepped up to save them.

Piqué saved the day, of course, by guiding a beautiful header into the back of the net in the 94th minute. When nothing had worked, the man who put his body on the line to return and help his club in their hour of need, rose to the occasion. The man who injured his knee in extra-time but by the final whistle was bouncing with the best of them. Still underrated, still the most hated; The Colossus of Catalunya.

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Loser: Diego Carlos

There’s a lot of things to be said for Diego Carlos. He’s an excellent defender, a real physical presence that many opponents find hard to handle (especially alongside Jules Koundé). And for the most part across this semi-final against Barcelona, Carlos had been rock solid like his partner Koundé.

However at the key moment of the tie, the 94th minute of normal time, Diego Carlos was out on the right closing down Antoine Griezmann. The left-footed Griezmann who had done precious little since coming on except get outmuscled in the box by Diego Carlos. The Frenchman had the ball on his right-foot and looked to hit a hopeful cross in with his right.

Thus Diego Carlos charged him down, except Griezmann quite predictably cut back onto his left and then delivered a peach of a cross which Gerard Piqué headed home. All because Diego Carlos thought the most left-footed man on the pitch was going to hit it with his right-foot so went all out to stop that. Oh dear.

Winner: Ousmane Dembélé

Barcelona won the match in extra-time with Martin Braithwaite, and they got to extra-time because of Gerard Piqué. But the reason Piqué’s goal carried them beyond 90 minutes was because of a moment of individual genius from Ousmane Dembélé. The French winger thundered the Blaugrana into the lead with an outrageous goal that was literally all of his own making.

After getting dispossessed by Jules Koundé inside the box, Dembélé recovered possession and ran away, avoiding pressure and working himself half a yard to shoot on his right foot. Well he took that half a yard and rocketed the ball into the back of the net with such outrageous power and precision that Tomas Vaclik in the Sevilla goal didn’t even move. It was a massive goal both technique, impact and significance, setting the stage for the night’s later drama.

Winner: Ronald Koeman

It’s easy to laugh at Ronald Koeman and he often doesn’t help himself, but sometimes he gets it right. Sticking with an unchanged XI tonight definitely worked for an hour as Barcelona dominated Sevilla. And while almost none of his subs beyond bringing Ilaix Moriba on for Sergio Busquets made even a lick of sense (and by the way how good does Ilaix look?) when he made them, they pretty much all came good in the end.

Francisco Trincao’s run helped win the free-kick that led to the corner that led to the goal and he provided great moments of pressure-relieving athleticism in extra time, Antoine Griezmann assisted the equaliser that forced extra-time, Martin Braithwaite scored the winning goal, Ilaix Moriba actually played well and then even Junior Firpo, a man who is more meme than player, provided a key defensive stop in the 90th minute just when it looked like Sevilla were going to be able to run out the clock.

And while the Dutchman’s altering of his team’s shape led to a Sevilla penalty a period of instability, his side pulled it out at the end anyway, so what does it matter? Koeman’s team has flaws but nine of their 11 goals in the Copa this season have been scored in the 88th minute or later. They refuse to be beaten, and given history is written by the winners; Ronald Koeman is one game away from being just that with Barcelona.