Lionel Messi produced a rare display of jubilation on the pitch on Wednesday night as Barcelona moved a step closer to what could be the striker’s final trophy at the club, forgetting their off-pitch troubles with a dramatic win.
Despite taking an early lead through Messi’s strike partner, Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona seemed certain to be ousted from the Spanish Copa del Rey by Sevilla as the final seconds of the match approached.
2-0 up from the first leg, the Europa League winners looked to have held on until Spain stalwart Gerard Pique leveled the tie in the 94th minute, striking two minutes after Fernando had been sent off for the visitors to save Barca fans from seeing more photos of Messi departing the pitch looking crestfallen.
Messi had been outside the penalty area on the right-hand side as the last-gasp equalizer went in, and the icon was caught on camera repeatedly leaping into the air and waving his fist at the turf as he raced to celebrate with his teammates.
Barca duly made the most of their man advantage to take the lead in the tie through occasionally-maligned forward Martin Braithwaite five minutes into extra-time, and there was a final flourish of drama when Luuk de Jong was sent off for Sevilla for protesting from the stands after he had been substituted.
Barcelona’s captain was at the center of a throng of players dancing and grinning on the pitch after the victory, which had looked unlikely at the death before Pique’s welcome intervention during another torrid week for the club.
Former president Josep Maria Bartomeu was reportedly arrested on Monday, and police raided the club’s headquarters as part of an investigation that is thought to be focusing on the “Barcagate” scandal, which includes alleged attempts to damage Messi’s image through an online smear campaign that the club has always denied having any involvement in.
Athletic Bilbao or Levante await Barca in the final of what looks like Messi’s best chance of winning a trophy this season.
Currently level on points with arch-rivals Real Madrid in second-place, Barca are in the hunt for the Liga title but remain five points behind long-term leaders Atletico Madrid, who have a game in hand.
Only a remarkable turnaround can keep Barca’s Champions League hopes alive when they travel to Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday, starting the second leg of the round of 16 tie 4-1 down following their mauling at the hands of the French champions last month.