Lionel Messi celebrated being voted the world’s top player with a hat-trick as Barcelona all but secured their place in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey with a 5-0 win over Real Betis at Camp Nou. On Monday Messi became the inaugural winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or after scoring an astonishing 60 goals for club and country in 2010, and he was back amongst the goals tonight, netting in the 44th, 62nd and 73rd minutes to set Barca on their way to an impressive victory in the first leg of their quarter-final tie.
Pep Guardiola’s side then added further strikes through Pedro Rodriguez and substitute Seydou Keita in the final 14 minutes to complete the scoring and make the second leg largely academic.
The scoreline was harsh on Betis though, with the Segunda Division leaders giving the Primera Division pacesetters plenty of problems at the back with their high-pressing tactics, but they had no answer at the other end to Barca’s all-star attack.
Guardiola sent out all his big guns for the clash, including the three players who made up the shortlist for the Ballon d’Or – Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi – who were all hailed by the crowd and their team-mates prior to kick-off.
In-form Barca, unsurprisingly, enjoyed the better of the chances in the first period with David Villa hitting the post and also being denied twice by visiting goalkeeper Casto Barriga, who also did well to keep out a Messi effort.
The home side had to wait until the 44th minute to make the breakthrough though, Iniesta feeding Messi on the edge of the box and the Argentina international coolly finishing with a delicate lob over the outcoming Casto.
Betis almost netted an immediate equaliser, however, as they raced down the other end and Ruben Castro thumped a 20-yard drive against the bar with Jose Pinto rooted to the spot.Pinto kept his side in the ascendancy at the start of the second half with a couple of good parries before Barca moved up through the gears in the final half-hour.
Messi made it 2-0 when he squeezed in the rebound after Casto had saved his initial effort, and the diminutive playmaker completed his hat-trick 11 minutes later after being put through by Xavi.Barca were creating chance after chance as Betis tired and it was no surprise to see them add more goals in the closing stages, Pedro firing home following good work by Dani Alves to make it 4-0 before Keita headed in late on to complete the scoring.
Earlier in the evening, holders Sevilla kept alive their hopes of retaining their trophy as they fought back from 2-0 and 3-1 down to earn a 3-3 draw against Villarrea at El Madrigal.
Villarreal, who outclassed Real Madrid in the first half of Sunday’s Primera Division encounter at the Bernabeu before losing 4-2, again started well and Cani’s volley into an empty net and Giuseppe Rossi’s deflected strike put them 2-0 up inside 28 minutes.
Sevilla pulled a goal back just before the break when Alvaro Negredo superbly brought down a fine pass from Ndri Romaric before slotting in, but hosts Villarreal resorted their two-goal advantage in the 55th minute when Marco Ruben headed in following good work down the left by Joan Capdevila and Rossi.
At that stage Sevilla’s grip on the cup looked to be slipping, but the Andalusians hit back to earn a draw, Negredo netting his second of the match in the 60th minute with a header before Alexis fired in Romaric’s low cross in the 88th minute.The remaining two quarter-final first legs will be played tomorrow, when Real Madrid host neighbours Atletico and Deportivo La Coruna go to Almeria.