Ronald Koeman defends Lionel Messi after red card for Punching opponent

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. 

'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. 

'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. 




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