Messi returns to lead Barca into Copa quarters

Barcelona (Agencies): Lionel Messi inspired a Barcelona fightback on his return from suspension as they beat Rayo Vallecano to reach the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Rayo, who are fourth in the Spanish second tier, took a shock lead when Fran Garcia tapped in a loose ball. Barca hit back six minutes later when Messi, back from a two-game ban after his first red card for the club, slotted in Antoine Griezmann’s pass.

Frenkie de Jong’s composed close-range finish ensured Barca avoided a shock. Barca captain Messi was also the architect for the winner, releasing substitute Jordi Alba down the left to provide a low cross that was met by De Jong’s perfectly timed run.

The Catalan club have won the Copa del Rey on a record 30 occasions and the competition looks to be their best chance to claim a trophy in Ronald Koeman’s first season as manager.

The Dutchman admitted as much going to the tie, with his side 10 points adrift of La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid and not considered among the favourites for the Champions League – especially as they face French champions Paris St-Germain in the last 16.

Both Atletico and Real Madrid suffered embarrassing exits to lower league opposition in the Copa del Rey, leaving Koeman’s men as the favourites to lift the trophy. Sevilla may have something to say about that, having reached the last eight earlier on Wednesday with a comfortable 3-0 home win against La Liga rivals Valencia. Segunda Division side Almeria progressed after beating top-flight Osasuna on penalties, while Real Betis, Villarreal and Levante won their last-16 ties on Tuesday.