Barcelona overturned a two-goal deficit to reach the Copa del Rey final by beating Sevilla in an intense, action-packed semifinal second leg on Wednesday and then got to teach their vanquished opponents a lesson in "respect" on behalf of their club captain, Gerard Pique.
Having lost the first leg 2-0 in Andalusia, Barca fought back to win 3-0 at the Camp Nou and go through -- though it took a missed penalty, a scintillating stoppage-time equaliser, extra time, nine yellow cards and two reds to get there (stream the replay on ESPN+ in the U.S.). It was the second time that Barca had beaten Sevilla in the space of just five days, having won 2-0 on Saturday when the two sides met in La Liga at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
It feels like their place in the Copa final has become something of an inevitability, having been as one of the last two clubs standing 10 times in the last 13 seasons. However, despite Ousmane Dembele's stunning early strike, Barca were still a goal down on aggregate as injury time wicked away in the second leg.
They came within seconds of elimination only for a vital 94th-minute headed equaliser from veteran centre-back Pique to force the tie to extra time. By steering home a delightful Antoine Griezmann cross, Pique kept Barca in it with his first goal in the Copa since 2017.
From a dramatic perspective, you certainly couldn't fault the timing. The celebration -- a cathartic roar directly down the camera lens -- spoke volumes of the tension that had just been relieved.
NOTHING TOPS THE FEELING OF A LAST MINUTE GOAL 😅 pic.twitter.com/NfWxyFq3jn— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 3, 2021
This all came just two weeks after Sevilla poked fun at Pique, re-appropriating an image of the 34-year-old struggling to keep pace with Paris Saint-Germain striker Kylian Mbappe which went viral on social media a fortnight ago.
Having waited patiently for the right moment, Barca's Twitter account responded to the jibe in the aftermath of the Copa semi, pointedly reminding Sevilla that "football is about respect" before wishing them good night.
Football is about respect. 𝘉𝘰𝘯𝘢 𝘯𝘪𝘵. https://t.co/TW5WFgkjle— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 3, 2021
However, the real-world riposte offered by Pique was much more emphatic as he and Barca sent Sevilla toppling out of the Copa del Rey for the fourth time in six years.
The lesson was almost biblical in its clarity: "Meme not, lest ye be memed right back twice as hard."
Although Pique's tie-saving exploits and his club's social media team backing him up after the match will stick in the memory, it was actually Martin Braithwaite who booked Barca their place in the final. Just 60 seconds into the first period of extra time, the striker popped up with a diving header to settle the match -- only his second goal in his last 17 appearances for Barca.
It was Jordi Alba who put in the cross for Braithwaite to score, and the Denmark international appears to be trying to take credit for the assist as well as the goal with a call-back to a tweet aimed at the left-back from a couple of weeks ago.
Between Lucas Ocampos having a penalty for Sevilla saved by Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the 73rd minute, Fernando getting sent off in the 92nd minute, Pique's equaliser in the 94th and then Braithwaite's winner in the 95th, Barca had turned the entire tie on its head in a bewildering flurry of action.
Athletic conceded an away goal as the first leg ended 1-1, but if the Basque club manage to progress then the final will be between the competition's two most dominant clubs: Barca have lifted the Copa a record 30 times, seven more than second-best Athletic.
In a rather delicious twist of irony, will take place at La Cartuja Stadium in, you guessed it, Sevilla.