MADRID (AFP) – Argentine forward Lionel Messi scored three times to give Barcelona a 3-1 away win over Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Cup’s last 16 first leg on Tuesday.
Messi, who was rested for Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Real Mallorca in the league on Saturday, raced up the right wing towards the area, slipped a pass to Daniel Alves who back-heeled to him.
The 21-year-old then used his left foot to send the ball past Atletico’s French keeper Gregory Coupet in the 11th minute as Argentina’s new national coach Diego Maradona watched from the stands.
Messi scored again in the 58th minute with a penalty kick into the bottom left corner that sent Coupet scrambling in the other direction.
His third goal came just 11 minutes from the final whistle with a clip with his left foot into an empty net after receiving the ball from Spanish international Andres Iniesta.
Czech defender Tomas Ujfalusi contributed Atletico’s only goal of the match in the 69th minute as he nodded the ball into the net after Portuguese winger Simao Sabrosa had swung in the corner.
The Madrid side quickly became frustrated at Barcelona’s domination of the game and racked up three yellow cards in a five-minute period as the end of the first-half neared.
Simao got a yellow card in the 37th minute for pushing Messi, followed two minutes later by Simao’s compatriot Maniche who got carded for tripping Iniesta. Left back Mariano Pernia got a yellow card in the 41st minute for tripping Alves.
Barcelona, who have won the Cup a record 24 times, were without injured Carles Puyol, Rafael Marquez and Aleksandr Hleb, and they rested Victor Valdes, Xavi and Samuel Eto’o, the top scorer in the Spanish league this season.
Atletico’s Argentine striker Sergio “Kun” Aguero was out due to a sore throat and fever.
There are five more first legs on Wednesday including holders Valencia’s trip to face Racing Santander and the 2007 winners Sevilla’s match at home to Deportivo Coruna.
The second legs take place on Jan 14 and 15.
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Messi is the best player in the world.