Messi returns to lead Barca into Copa quarters

Barcelona needed a second-half comeback to beat Rayo Vallecano 2-1 in the Copa del Rey round of 16 and advance to the quarterfinals on Wednesday night at the Estadio de Vallecas.

Lionel Messi was back in the Barca XI after serving a two-match ban for a red card he received in their Spanish Supercoppa loss to Athletic Bilbao on Jan. 17.

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Despite their talisman’s return, Barcelona could not find a way through in an opening 45 minutes they dominated, twice hitting the post and forcing Rayo keeper Stole Dimitrievski into a good save from an Antoine Griezmann strike as the half wore on.

Barcelona’s misfortune continued in the second half when Messi’s audacious attempt at goal from a free kick hit the far post as it looked to be curling into the Rayo net.

After that, Rayo grew into the game and took a surprising lead shortly after the hour with a tap-in from Fran Garcia when Barca keeper Neto spilled a save right into his path in front of goal.

The lead was short-lived, though, as Barca drew level through Messi on a counter-attack when the Argentine was left with the easiest of back-post finishes thanks to a nice cross from Griezmann.

Soon after, Barcelona took the lead as Jordi Alba set up Frenkie de Jong for another close-range finish that put the visitors in position to see out the tie and book passage to the quarterfinals of Spain’s annual cup competition.

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