Koeman defends Messi after red card for punching Bilbao opponent

Ronald Koeman defends Lionel Messi after red card for PUNCHING Athletic Bilbao opponent, insisting it was ‘normal’ because ‘I don’t know how many times they fouled him’, in Barcelona’s Spanish Super Cup final defeat

  • Ronald Koeman defended Lionel Messi’s sending off in the Copa Del Rey final 
  • Messi got his first club red card for hitting Athletic Bilbao’s Asier Villalibre
  • The Barcelona manager said Messi was frustrated at being constantly fouled 

Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman has defended Lionel Messi over the club icon receiving the first red card of his club career for punching an opponent in the Spanish Super Cup final. 

The Argentine was sent off after extra time when he hit Athletic Bilbao forward Asier Villalibre around the head off the ball. Referee Jesus Gil Manzano checked the pitchside monitor and sent Messi off, with Barcelona eventually losing the game 3-2.

Koeman, however, has backed his star man, saying Messi’s frustration at being repeatedly fouled throughout the game unsurprisingly boiled over. 

 Ronald Koeman (right) has backed Lionel Messi (left) over his red card in the Copa Del Rey final

Barcelona captain Messi was sent off in extra time for hitting Atheltic Bilbao’s Asier Villalibre

‘I can understand what Messi did,’ the Dutchman said after the match. 

‘I don’t know how many times they fouled him, and it’s normal to react when they keep trying to foul you as a player who is looking to dribble with the ball, but I need to see it again properly.’ 

Questions were asked about whether Messi should even have started in the cup final, as he had missed the semi-final victory over Real Sociedad earlier in the week through injury.  

Koeman, however, let Messi make the final decision on his fitness, and stood by his call. 

Koeman said he ‘can understand’ what Messi did because he was being repeatedly fouled 

‘I think after so many years at the top level, he knows when he can play and when he can’t,’ Koeman said. ‘I spoke with him and he said he was fit enough to start the game.’   

As a straight red card for violent conduct, Messi is likely to miss the next four domestic matches. 

This will pile more pressure on an already beleaguered Koeman, who are third in LaLiga and seven points adrift of table toppers Atletico Madrid having played two games more. 

Athletic Bilbao claimed a third Super Cup title by beating Barcelona in Seville on Sunday

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