Ronald Koeman has jumped to the defence of Lionel Messi after the Barcelona star was sent off for the first time in his career on Sunday.
Messi will be suspended for two games, which could be extended to four after he took a swipe at Athletic Bilbao’s Asier Villalibre in Sunday’s Spanish Supercopa final.
Messi was far from his best after recently returning from injury, although he did have a hand in the opening goal before he was dismissed late in extra time. It wasn’t enough for Barca though, who were beaten 3-2 by Bilbao after the game ended 2-2 in normal time.
Koeman refused to condemn Messi after the game after the 33-year-old appeared to hit Villalibre, who netted a 90th-minute equaliser, on the back of the head late on.
“I can understand what Messi did,” said Koeman, quoted by ESPN.
“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.”
Speaking about the Argentine’s fitness, Koeman said, via Marca: “After so many years, he knows when he can play and when he can’t.
“He decided to play and that’s it. It’s better I don’t speak [about the referee]. I will not give an opinion.”
It was a thoroughly frustrating day for Barcelona, despite Antoine Griezmann firing them ahead.
Griezmann ‘p***ed’ off
“How do you think we are?” Griezmann said, when asked how he was feeling after the final whistle in Seville.
“We’re p***ed off, angry, annoyed.
“When you lose a final, you have all these bad feelings.”
Messi punch Villalibre. Final of the Spanish Super Cup 2021 red card for Messi. pic.twitter.com/26B6CDzvWM
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Dutch boss Koeman did put a positive spin on the result.
“It’s not a step backwards,” he said. “A title is convenient to show that you’re on the right path, but we’ve still showed that we are.
“We’ve done everything to win, but we were very tired. For many players it will prove a good experience to have played in this final.”
Athletic were intent on winning fouls to set-up free-kicks, in order to use their aerial prowess.
Koeman added. “It’s a quality they have, how they win the fouls and the players they have.
“We don’t have tall players, and for their second goal we didn’t adjust our defensive line properly and he took his goal well.”