Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique was relieved to find his side’s Copa del Rey hopes still alive after an eventful 2-1 defeat to Athletic Bilbao.
The holders fell 2-0 behind at a fired up San Mames, with veteran striker Aritz Aduriz and Inaki Williams on target for Ernesto Valverde’s men.
Aduriz should perhaps have been sent off for appearing to strike Barca centre-back Samuel Umtiti in the throat and Neymar was denied a seemingly obvious penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Referee Fernandez Borbalan’s erratic showing turned on Athletic during the second half when Raul Garcia and Ander Iturraspe were sent off for collecting second bookings.
By that stage, Lionel Messi’s free-kick had been fumbled in by Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz and the Argentinian superstar struck the inside of the post in stoppage time.
Neverthless, Luis Enrique was broadly satisfied to only be facing a narrow deficit when the teams reconvene at Camp Nou next Wednesday.
“Given how the game went, the goal breathes life into us. At the end we deserved the equaliser,” he told reporters.
“It will be difficult but we have to keep a clean sheet [in the second leg].
“It presents a difficult challenge, we will need our fans and it will be a good opportunity to revive our chances of qualifying in the Copa.
“This has been a regular game in San Mames, with tension, without being them being drawn out from behind.
“It cost us at the beginning of the game. They have taken advantage of two transitions to execute pressure after loss of possession.
“In the first half we played with a lack of precision and the scenario had been complicated – with two goals against, with players with yellow cards, several angry and arguing with the referee.
“What happened in the second half is we controlled everything. After the break the sensations have been good, creating opportunities and occasions to tie the game. We were there.”
Despite a number of controversial flashpoints, Luis Enrique refused to criticise Borbalan’s performance.
“At the end of the first half you could see the frustration that was the result of his decisions,” he added.
“But you have to remember that it is very difficult to assess the work of the referee, which I think is the most difficult [job] there is.”
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