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Jan 22, 2014

Tello treble powers Barca to Copa win

Lionel Messi marked his 400th appearance for Barcelona with a 4-1 win at Levante in the Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg, but for once found himself upstaged as Cristian Tello hit a hat-trick.

Cristian Tello secured the match ball after scoring a hat trick against Levante in the Copa del Rey.
Cristian Tello secured the match ball after scoring a hat trick against Levante in the Copa del Rey.

But the Argentinian still more than played his part by laying on all of Barca's goals.

Denied by the hosts in the first half, Messi withdrew into midfield to turn playmaker and place four precise passes behind the defense that led to an own goal in the 53rd minute and Tello's treble in the 60th, 81st and 86th.

Levante had held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Ciutat de Valencia Stadium just four days earlier in the Spanish league, and it was on course toward a similar feat after Nabil El Zhar netted in the 31st.

But Messi again showed that he is much more than Barcelona's all-time scorer with 331 goals since his debut in 2004 by exploiting Tello's speed down the left flank with well-timed assists.

Elsewhere, Real Sociedad defender Mikel Gonzalez scored twice to help earn a 3-1 victory at home over third-division Racing Santander in their opening leg.

Levante found Barcelona's weak spot in defending set pieces when Carles Puyol's clearance of a free kick fell for El Zhar to score at the second attempt after goalkeeper Jose Pinto had blocked his powerful first shot.

But Barcelona was more inspired after the break and Messi's first pass to Tello led to the equaliser. Goalie Javier Jimenez got down to block Tello's shot, but Loukas Vyntra struck the loose ball off teammate Juanfran Garcia and into the net.

Messi again floated back to the centre of the pitch to draw the defence with him before threading another pass to meet Tello's run, and this time the forward fired the ball beyond Jimenez to give Barcelona the lead.

The Argentina star fended off a tackle and slid a diagonal ball for Tello to score his second before Messi picked him out with a pass over the top for his third goal.

Puyol had to be replaced by Javier Mascherano in the 57th due to an apparent leg injury. The 35-year-old Puyol has been plagued by a series of injuries for the past two seasons.

Sociedad forward Gonzalo "Chory'' Castro crossed twice for Gonzalez to score his goals, the first coming in the third minute followed by another in the 34th -- just two minutes after Racing's Andreu Guerao had hit the crossbar.

Vela curled in Sociedad's third in the 62nd, but Mahamadou Kone gave Racing hope for next week's return leg by scoring in the 83rd.

Racing had previously eliminated first-division teams Sevilla and Almeria despite its ongoing economic problems which have delayed players being paid on time and forced the team to take long bus rides.

"I don't think this is over with that last goal, but we have a comfortable lead,'' said Gonzalez.

Defending champion Atletico Madrid play Athletic Bilbao on Thursday. Real Madrid won 1-0 at Espanyol on Tuesday.

Press Association and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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