Barça showed good spirit to come from behind and beat Cartagena 1-4 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey tie at the Cartagonova stadium tonight. Fernando Rodriguez put an upset on the cards when he fired the Segunda División B side into a 17th-minute lead but Barça responded with goals from Pedro Rodriguez and Cesc Fabregas before the half-time break. Pedro added his second fifteen minutes from the end before 18-year-old substitute Jean-Marie Dongou grabbed his first official first-team goal on his debut near the end.
Jordi Alba returned to the team after nearly three months out and the other main talking point of Tata Martino’s team selection was to see Alex Song and Sergi Roberto forming the midfield with Sergio Busquets. There was a lively start to the game with Alexis shooting narrowly wide after a good one-two with Sergi Roberto in the first minute. However, Cartagena didn’t take long to threaten Barça’s defence which looked shaky under the early whirlwind pressure, and De Lerma powered a shot just wide in the 6th minute. There was another half chance for the home team soon after when Barça only cleared a corner as far as Zurdo who drove over from 20 yards.
Barça were creating little with the only attempts on goal being a 30-yard effort from Adriano and a header from a corner from Song, both of which went straight at the Cartagena keeper Limones. Then in the 17th minute Bartra gave a poor ball forward, David Moreno played the ball through into the space behind Bartra, and Fernando ran away from Puyol and shot low across Pinto into the far corner.
Barça hadn’t been playing well and going behind meant a real test of character. Today, the players responded well and the occasions soon started to come. Alexis had a header over and a shot blocked then in the 23rd minute Pedro had a great chance to shoot but he chose to pull the ball back to Song and the defence intervened.
Asturian was booked for bringing down Pedro on the edge of the area but Alexis fired the free kick straight at the wall. Barça kept pressing with Fabregas curling just wide after Sergi Roberto found him on the left, Limones had to react splendidly to parry Alexis’s header after Adriano’s pinpoint cross, then another free-kick was chipped a whisker wide by Fabregas.
Despite Barça’s improved play there was a worry with the score at 1-0 that Cartagena might be capable of somehow holding out till the end. This worry was dispelled in the 37th minute when Busquets moved the ball forward to Fabregas who played an excellent reverse pass to send Pedro clean through and this time the little Canarian made no mistake, slotting the ball under Limones’s dive for the equalizer.
Sergi Roberto should have put Barça in front from a similar position a minute later after Alexis’s pass but the young midfielder sent a disappointing side-footed shot straight at Limones. However, Barça took lead two minutes before half-time when Adriano sent in his second good cross from the right and Fabregas met the ball with a half-volley which flew past the keeper into the roof of the net.
Barça came out strongly in the second half, determined not to get caught by any early rush from the home team. With no great need to storm forward Barça took control of the ball, and the possession, which had been around 75% in Barça’s favour in the first half, progressively increased as Cartagena tired. There was little danger for either goalkeeper though Limones had to save with his legs to thwart Fabregas in the 56th minute.
The gaps began to appear more frequently in the Cartagena defence as the game entered the final 20 minutes. Alexis had a glorious chance to get on the scoresheet in the 72nd minute: a superb ball from Sergi Roberto sent Pedro away on the left but the Canarian’s cross bobbled slightly as it reached Alexis and the Chilean couldn’t keep the ball down, sending the ball over an open goal from seven yards out.
Four minutes later Alexis made up for his miss with a neat flick through for Pedro who dummied Limones before scoring into the empty net. Dongou was brought on in place of Alexis and in the final minute of normal time the youngster opened his account for Barça, stabbing in the rebound after Pedro’s shot came back out off the post.
This was looking a bit worrying during the first half but the players responded well to the challenge to earn a good win. It was pleasing to see the return of Jordi Alba who looked pretty sharp considering his time out, while the midfield with Song and Sergi Roberto deserves praise for a more energetic approach than we have seen in recent games. My biggest cheer of the night came for Dongou’s goal, he is still very raw but he has a good poacher’s instinct in the penalty area and looks likely to have a very good future. Hopefully tonight’s goal will be the first of many for the young striker.
Cartagena: Limones; Zurdo (Dani Ruiz m71), Mariano Sanchez, Astrian, Riau; Antoñito, Marcos, Moreno; De Lerma (Menudo m58); Fernando (Megias m85).
Barça: Pinto 6.5; Adriano 7, Bartra 7, Puyol 6, Alba 7 (Montoya m81, –); Song 7.5, Busquets 7, Sergi Roberto 7; Alexis 6.5 (Dongou m78, 7), Fabregas 7, Pedro 8.
Goals: m17 Fernando 1-0, m37 Pedro 1-1, m43 Fabregas 1-2, m76 Pedro 1-3, m90 Dongou 1-4.
Yellow cards: m25 Astrian, m42 Riau.