Espanyol goalkeeper Pau Lopez has denied intentionally stamping on Lionel Messi's ankle during Wednesday's tension-filled Copa del Rey last-16 first leg.
During Barcelona's 4-1 victory at the Camp Nou—in which two Espanyol players were sent off—Pau clearly stood on the Argentinian superstar's right leg, per talkSPORT:
However, the 21-year-old stopper insisted there was no malice in the stamp and that he did not do it on purpose, per Spanish outlet Sport:
I've never gone onto a pitch to cause damage to anyone. Anyone who thinks I go out onto a pitch to cause damage to a colleague in this profession does not know me well. Never, not now and not in the future. It was something that happens in the game, like the blow [Arda] Turan dealt to my head—no worries now.
Given that Pau appeared to quickly glance down at Messi's leg before standing on the 28-year-old, many have condemned the goalkeeper's actions, including Spanish football writer Andy West:
Yes...should say I would not include Pau's stamp on Messi in sentiments of previous tweets. That was unacceptable.— Andy West (@andywest01) January 6, 2016
Indeed, La Liga expert Alexandra Jonson believes Pau deserves a suspension for his actions:
If La Liga was a completely functional league then Pau López would get a suspension for that stamp earlier, but doubt that will happen— Alexandra Jonson (@AlexandraJonson) January 6, 2016
The second leg of the Copa del Rey tie is set to be played on Jan. 13 at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat and is likely to be another tense affair between the two Barcelona clubs.
Messi netted a double in the first leg, and it would take an extraordinary effort from Espanyol to overturn the three-goal deficit and advance to the quarter-finals of the Copa in Barca's place.