Barcelona will play their ninth Copa del Rey final in 12 years but this was anything but routine, the route there torturous and dramatic. Marc André ter-Stegen saved a Lucas Ocampos penalty that would have taken Sevilla through before Gerard Piqué scored with the last touch of normal time to rescue his side, dragging this match into extra time where Martin Braithwaite completed the comeback.
The Dane’s header ultimately defeated Sevilla 3-0 on the night, 3-2 on aggregate, but even that might not have been definitive, even with Sevilla down to 10 men by then. In the 99th minute, everything was put on pause, tension growing as the referee, José María Sánchez Martínez, stood with his finger in his ear. In the VAR room 600km away, they revised another possible penalty for a handball from Clément Lenglet.
Eventually the appeal was turned down, so a week which began with the former president in a police cell and will end with a new president finally in power also delivered the chance for some redemption for Barcelona. All three candidates were in the directors’ box at an empty Camp Nou as shouts of joy echoed round at the end, the players, as exhausted as they were elated, piling on and screaming. For Sevilla, there was just regret.
Barcelona had done it, emerging bruised but still on their feet, which is the story of this season’s cup. They had needed extra time against third-tier Cornella, had to come from behind to defeat second division Rayo Vallecano; and scored two in the last three minutes to take Granada to extra time, where they were obliged to score two more. And now they had survived Sevilla: defeated 2-0 at the Sánchez Pizjuán, they had turned it round, clinching a result that Piqué had vowed would “change everything”.
On Saturday the centre-back had insisted: “we’re very, very alive”; with the clock showing 93.05 on Wednesday night, it didn’t look like it. But a single goal was still all they needed, and playing as a centre-forward Piqué got it, glancing in Antoine Griezmann’s cross. Jordi Alba then supplied Braithwaite to take them to the final in Seville, where they will face Levante or Athletic Bilbao. By then Piqué could no longer walk, but nor could he care less.
It had been a long night, and it had started off fast, Barcelona running at Sevilla with an intent and incision that suggested they would not need the rescue mission that they were later forced to launch. When Ousmane Dembélé scored the opening goal it had been coming, even though the game was only 12 minutes in. It was the Frenchman’s fourth chance of the night, and the first goal Sevilla had conceded in the whole competition.
Winning the ball in the area and scrambling away from Jules Koundé, Dembélé turned full circle to evade the defender, heading away from goal rather than towards it. Out of the area, too. There, he stopped, as if no longer interested in anything other than maintaining possession. Suddenly, he smashed it from 18 yards out and found the top corner, too fast for Tomas Vaclik.
Barcelona had the lead. More than that, they seemed to have this game and their opponents where they wanted them. They had refused to hang around, as if determined to avoid any drama – but that is what they got. They were slicing through Julen Lopetegui’s team, who were barely given room to breathe, let alone play. Unable to win the ball often and unable to keep it when they did, Sevilla found Barcelona coming at them repeatedly.
Inside, Pedri moved smoothly, all neat touches, perfect timing, and graceful turns. To either side of him, there was thrust, men racing by. Invariably, Barcelona’s moves ended with some assault on Vaclik’s goal. Brief appearances from Joan Jordán and Luuk de Jong at the other end were just that. At half-time, Barcelona led 1-0. Sevilla could be grateful it was not more, and that they had been given the chance to make adjustments.
The game did change, too. Barcelona still dominated the ball, their defence still pressing high and alert to those rare moments when Sevilla sought a way out. But it was less relentless now and reducing by the minute, the sense of danger diminishing. Sevilla, it seemed, had survived the worst of the storm, and started even to keep the ball. As the second period progressed, this began to feel a bit like next goal wins.
Sevilla should have got it. A superb break led by Yousef En-Nesyri carried Sevilla upfield, where they won a penalty after Ocampos was brought down by Óscar Mingueza. Ocampos, on as a substitute after five weeks out injured, took responsibility, which weighed heavy. Score and it would be virtually done, Barcelona left needing three more goals in less than 20 minutes. But his run up was too straight and his shot was poor, Ter Stegen’s save unexpectedly comfortable.
Time though was slipping away, Barcelona still needed a goal and Sevilla’s wall was better built now. Koeman sent on all his attackers. He also sent Piqué up front. But opportunities were few until a late, desperate surge. Ocampos had to dive full length in front of Lionel Messi, blocking the shot with his chest. And then Francisco Trincão was brought down, meaning a red card for Fernando and a last chance for Messi on the edge of the area. It was the 93rd minute and his free-kick deflected wide for a corner, that chance denied but one more delivered.
Messi’s cross deflected and dropped at the far post where Diego Carlos tried to clear, perhaps unnecessarily. Griezmann controlled, turned and curled it in towards the six-yard box and towards Piqué. Next thing they knew, he was running to the touchline and screaming down the camera, like Diego Maradona in 1994, teammates engulfing him.
There was not even time for Sevilla to kick off again and somewhere inside they knew it was over, this game heading into extra time and Braithwaite heading Barcelona into another final.