VALENCIA, Spain – A steady Levante side bested holders Barcelona 2-1 on Thursday in the first leg of their Copa del Rey round-of-16 tie.
Without Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and other regular starters in the lineup, Barça struggled to adapt to the pace set by the hosts from the start of the contest at Ciutat de Valencia stadium.
Levante scored on their first opportunity.
Erick Cabaco’s header off a free kick put the home aside up 1-0 in the 4th minute, while it took a great effort by Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen to deny Emmanuel Boateng just minutes later.
But the reprieve turned out to be brief, as Borja Mayoral scored for Levante in the 18th minute with an assist from Boateng.
While the visitors improved after going down 2-0, Levante were stalwart in defense and keeper Aitor Fernandez enjoyed a quiet first half.
The area in front of the Levante net remained a fortress well into the second half and the hosts had chances on the counter to extend their advantage, though they seemed reluctant to take any unnecessary risks against talent-laden Barcelona.
Barcelona came to dominate possession in the final phase of the contest and a foray by Denis Suarez drew a foul in the 84th minute. The referee pointed to the spot and Philippe Coutinho converted to cut the deficit to 2-1 but Levante hung on to seal the victory.