Barcelona's Lionel Messi and coach Ronald Koeman.(REUTERS)
Barcelona's Lionel Messi and coach Ronald Koeman.(REUTERS)

Messi doubtful as Barça plays Bilbao in Super Cup final

Barcelona's all-time leading scorer has been nursing an unspecified fitness issue that caused coach Ronald Koeman to leave him out of the semifinal on Wednesday against Real Sociedad.
PTI
PUBLISHED ON JAN 17, 2021 09:26 AM IST

Lionel Messi is doubtful for the final of the Spanish Super Cup, when his Barcelona will face Athletic Bilbao.

Barcelona's all-time leading scorer has been nursing an unspecified fitness issue that caused coach Ronald Koeman to leave him out of the semifinal on Wednesday against Real Sociedad. Without Messi, Barcelona needed some great goalkeeping by Marc-Andre ter Stegen to reach — and prevail in — a penalty shootout.

Messi has been training on his own and his readiness is up in the air, Koeman said on Saturday.

"(Messi) will have the last word, he knows his own body," Koeman said. "We hope that he can play the game.

"With Leo, the team is stronger thanks to his ability to create and his effectiveness as a scorer, things that we are sometimes missing. (But) he must be 100%. This is not the last game of the season."

Barcelona, however, has shown it can win without its star. While not a brilliant attacking performance, Barcelona did have one of its best collective matches in the semifinals to get past an inspired Sociedad.

That gritty performance gives veteran midfielder Sergio Busquets reason to believe the team is finding its stride after a shaky start to its rebuild under Koeman.

"Saying that we have got this all figured out is a bit much, but we are on the right path," Busquets said.

"We are on a good run, feeling better as a group. (Winning the title) would be an important step, and I am convinced this team can continue to grow."

Bilbao reached the final to be played in Seville after eliminating defending champion Real Madrid.

Forward Raul García scored twice to earn the Basque club a 2-1 victory on Thursday.

The final will be the third match in charge for Bilbao coach Marcelino García Toral. His debut last week was at home against Barcelona in the league. Messi scored twice to help Barcelona recover from an early goal by Iñaki Williams and secure a 3-2 victory.

"We must go into the match thinking that (Messi) will play and that he will play at his best, and that it is our job to stop him,” Marcelino said.

"My players are revved up and ready to conquer the world. To beat both Madrid and Barcelona to win this trophy would be the maximum.” Bilbao beat Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, when it was still a two-leg final between the league and Copa del Rey winners.

This Spanish Super Cup is in southern Spain after the coronavirus pandemic stopped it from being played in Saudi Arabia for a second straight season.

The tournament's revamped final four format includes the top two finishers in the Spanish league and the finalists of the Copa del Rey from the previous season.

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