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Coutinho debuts, Messi, Suarez score as Barcelona advances in Copa

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MADRID (AP) Goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez guided Barcelona to a 2-0 victory over city rival Espanyol on Thursday and a place in the Copa del Rey semifinals.

[ MORE: MLS teen signs for Barca ]

Barcelona had lost the first leg 1-0 last week, but quickly evened the series when Suarez headed home less than 10 minutes into the match at Camp Nou. Messi scored the goal that secured a 2-1 win on aggregate midway through the first half.

The match marked the debut of new Barcelona signing Philippe Coutinho, who came off the bench in the second half to replace Andres Iniesta.

Coutinho arrived from Liverpool at the beginning of the month but had been sidelined by a right leg muscle injury. The Brazilian playmaker was signed in a transfer worth up to 160 million euros (then $192 million), making him Barcelona’s most expensive player ever.

It’s the eighth straight season that Barcelona has made it to the Copa semifinals, having won the title for the last three years.


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Three things from Lionel Messi, er, Barcelona’s defeat of Man City

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Even Pep Guardiola will admit that tactics and technical ability don’t matter much when you make awful, awful mistakes.

Barcelona was gifted three beautiful scoring chances, and Lionel Messi converted all of them before Neymar tallied late in a 4-0 win over visiting Manchester City on Wednesday at the Camp Nou.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

That’s just the lead point from the three things that stand out from Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League group stage match.

Early half slip-ups cost City dearly

The biggest key to beating Barcelona is to limit mistakes, and Man City’s unlucky early error gifted the home side a goal.

Fernandinho has been so, so good in Pep Guardiola’s system, and sometimes form can take a hit simply from stepping on the wrong place at the wrong time.

The midfielder slipped on the slick turf just outside the penalty spot, and was unable to clear the ball. Even worse, the ball came to Lionel Messi. The world’s best player danced around Claudio Bravo and gave Barca the goal City would be chasing all afternoon.

The second error was as huge an error as you’ll see. Bravo helped his ex-mates out in a big, big way.

Coming way out of his area, Bravo played a short pass directly to Luis Suarez and was forced to take a red card by handling Suarez’s quick attempt to chip to lost goalkeeper.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

City missing clinical touch

The weapons at Pep Guardiola’s disposal are many, and City really stuck with the hosts during a challenging first half.

But several balls found their way to the outside of the netting, and Kevin De Bruyne came oh-so-close to making it 1-1 just before halftime.

[ MORE: Arsenal’s Ozil leads UCL rout of Ludogorets ]

It was during a 10-minute period near the end of the first half that City really found some footing. Barca were nowhere near the ropes, but had appeared fairly mortal.

It’s during these times that the finish has to come, and it didn’t. Presumably this had to murder Sergio Aguero’s nerves as the fellow Argentine didn’t feature.

That’s not even to mention how poorly the defenders performed, especially young John Stones. He had another match to forget.

Speaking of clinical… MESSI

While the world’s best player didn’t have to work too hard to open the scoring (See: Thing No. 1), Lionel Messi made another show of class by making it 2-0 shortly after Bravo was sent off.

Cutting in from his right, Messi worked Fernandinho and belted a shot before Aleksandar Kolarov reacted. 2-0. It didn’t take long for it be 3-0, and who knows how much worse it would’ve gotten had Jeremy Mathieu not made an absurd challenge to put both teams down a man. Oh yeah, and Neymar missed a penalty as well.

Barca to hold memorial for Cruyff for 4 days at Camp Nou

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona will hold a memorial for Johan Cruyff for fans to pay their respects to the former player and coach.

Barcelona says the memorial will be open from Saturday to Tuesday at Camp Nou.

The president of Catalonia’s regional government will attend the opening of the memorial.

[ MORE: Amsterdam Arena set to be renamed in Cruyff’s honor ]

Many of Barcelona’s first-team players are away playing with their national selections this weekend. They will attend the memorial on Tuesday.

The Spanish club has also declared a period of mourning until April 2.

Cruyff died on Thursday of lung cancer.

Barcelona calls the Dutchman a “legend” for his highly successful stints as player and coach.

Barcelona will not be allowed to unveil Luis Suárez at Camp Nou

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FIFA have blocked Barcelona’s plans to unveil new signing Luis Suárez to a packed crowd at the Camp Nou. While serving out his ban for biting, the club may not introduce him in such a manner.

FIFA’s head of media Delia Fischer told a news conference:

The ban relates to all football-related activity. He cannot be in a football-related public event irrespective of the venue. He cannot even be involved in a football-related charity event.

Suárez’s move from Liverpool, for a fee estimated at around $128m, is to be completed in the next few days. The last high-profile signing, Neymar, was unveiled in front of 90,000 Barcelona fans at the Camp Nou last June. Suárez, meanwhile, may be introduced in a ceremony at the city’s L’Auditori building.

The forward scored 33 goals in 34 games for Liverpool last season, which is precisely why Barcelona are willing to put up with all these headaches. Earlier today, we learned about reports that Suárez would see his salary docked should he bite yet another player. Now, the club are having to rearrange ceremonies meant to show off just how fantastic their new signing is.

Then again, Barcelona may be a bit desperate. By their standards, they had a bit of an off year last season. After winning La Liga four of the past five years, they came in second last season. Real Madrid pipped them to the Copa del Rey title. Atlético Madrid knocked them out of the Champions League in the quarterfinals (and took the title, for goodness sake).

Barcelona need to do something to get themselves back into winning ways. They’ve chosen Suárez, despite his four-month ban from all soccer-related activities. But will this signing continue to backfire?

No New, just Nou: Barcelona decides to upgrade stadium to 105,000

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It’s going to cost 495 million Euros to upgrade Camp Nou to one of the largest stadiums in the world, as the club’s directors voted against moving to a new venue. Instead, they’ve opted to expand their hallowed home.

Camp Nou’s already pretty huge — we’re talking Top 12 stadiums by capacity in the world — but the expansion will push it into the Top Five. The resolution still needs to be passed by the club’s 160,000+ owning members, but would take the capacity to around 105,000.

For comparison’s sake, Mexico’s giant Estadio Azteca is 105,000. Only four sports buildings in the world are larger: North Korea’s Rungnado May Day Stadium (150,000), India’s Salt Lake Stadium (120,000) and the homes for American college football’s Penn State and Michigan.

Camp Nou opened in 1957 and the new stadium simply would cost too much money for the board to deem it responsible spending. Adding to the positives of growing the building is that Barcelona won’t need a temporary home; Matches will be played during construction, which would take through 2021.

It would also add roofing to cover all spectators, but not the pitch.