Spanish Cup: Messi puts Barcelona on road to quarters

January 7th, 2009 - 3:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Madrid, Jan 7 (DPA) Lionel Messi gave one of the best performances of his promising career in Madrid, scoring a handsome hat-trick as Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid 3-1 in a one-sided fifth round, first leg clash in the Spanish Cup.The Argentine youngster confirmed his status as one of football’s brightest stars, at the same time that Barca confirmed their status as the top team in Spain.

Messi missed Barca’s 3-1 defeat of Mallorca Saturday because he returned late from vacation. On Tuesday, he made up for lost time by driving the flat Atletico defence crazy.

After just eight minutes, the flying Messi was pulled down for a clear penalty by John Heitinga, but it was not given by referee Eduardo Iturralde.

Five minutes later Messi played a clever one-two with right-back Daniel Alves, and made it 1-0 with a low left-foot shot.

On a cold night in Madrid, Barca continued to dominate, despite coach Josep Guardiola fielding only one of the players who started against Mallorca.

In the 57th minute, Heitinga clumsily pulled down Messi again, and was sent off. Messi calmly converted the resulting penalty to make it 2-0.

In the 70th minute, Atletico defender Tomas Ujfalusi headed in a corner to make it 2-1. Eleven minutes later, Messi - who had just hit the Atletico bar - completed his hat-trick by skipping around Atletico keeper Gregory Coupet and making it 3-1 with his right foot.

The game finished with the near-capacity crowd applauding Messi, while baying for the blood of coach Javier Aguirre.

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