Valencia have a foot and a half in the semi-finals after a 4-1 victory over city rivals Levante on Thursday evening. Although the teams are only one place apart in the league table, the locals were by far the better side, Pablo Hernández firing a shot just wide before slipping the ball through for Jonas to turn a shot under Keylor Navas. A few minutes later Soldado made it two with an opportunist strike, steering the ball past the keeper after Javi Venta could only play Pablo's cross in to his path, and although Koné surprised Diego Alves with a snap-shot from the edge of the area, Piatti got ahead of Navas to turn in another Pablo assist to restore the two goal cushion on the stroke of half time. The visiting keeper injured himself in the play and had to be replaced at the break by Munúa, who saw Rami and Feghouli head chances wide after the restart. Koné could have scored a second for Levante had Alves not pulled off an excellent save, but with the game coming to an end a shot from Tino Costa ballooned off two defenders over the head of Munúa and in to the net. That should surely be enough to see Emery's side through to a semi-final meeting with the winner of the tie between Barcelona and Real Madrid. (19.01.12)
Barcelona have the edge over their eternal rivals Real Madrid in their quarter final cup tie after a 1-2 victory in the Bernabeu stadium. It was another intense "Clásico", with Mourinho surprising everyone including Altintop and Carvalho in his starting line-up, and giving Pepe a holding midfield role. It appeared to have worked early on when Cristiano Ronaldo picked up Benzema's pass on the left wing and cut in to fire a low shot past Pinto. But before the half time whistle Alexis had headed against the post, and Messi and Iniesta both went close before Puyol charged in to head home Xavi's corner just three minutes after the restart. A few minutes later Ramos deflected Iniesta's volley against the post, and Benzema headed against the upright at the other end. Then with a quarter of an hour to go Messi found Abidal with a chip over the top of the defence to allow the full back to steer a shot past Casillas. Frustrated fans left the ground early after seeing another defeat against their old rivals, and there were moments of tension on the pitch, especially when Pepe trod on Messi's hand behind the back of referee Muñiz Fernández. There are still ninety minutes remaining though, and next week's game in the Nou Camp promises to be X-rated.
Earlier in the evening Athletic Bilbao took a big step towards a place in the semi-finals after beating Mallorca 2-0. Fans applauded "Jokín" Caparrós as he returned to his old hunting ground, but in the end it was the team that he largely constructed which beat his new side. Both keepers were in action as the game got off to a lively start, Iraizoz keeping out a deflected shot from Chori Castro and another effort from Pereira, and Calatayud saving from Aurtenetxe and Ander. With ten minutes to go to the break though Llorente headed a De Marcos cross past the visiting keeper, and after the restart Calatayud had to be on his guard again to keep out a dangerous free kick from half time substitute Iñigo Pérez. Athletic went further in front though when Muniain headed in another De Marcos cross, and they should have scored a third when Susaeta ran through to shoot across the keeper only for his strike to be erroneously ruled out for a non-existent offside. (18.01.12)
More excitement in the first quarter final of the cup, with minnows Mirandés giving Espanyol a fright before eventually falling to a 3-2 defeat. The second division B side had already knocked Villarreal and Racing Santander out in previous rounds, and they took the lead midway through the first half when Alain Arroyo took advantage of a defensive mix-up to fire a shot in off the post. Romaric came close to equalising when he hit the post soon after the restart, but day-time bank manager Pablo Infante caused several problems before he took advantage of another mistake by Amat to chip keeper Kiko Casilla, his sixth goal in the tournament and one which Raúl would have been proud off. The visitors had already had two good penalty appeals turned down as well by Mateu Lahoz, and with five minutes to go the referee let play go on when Weiss picked up a long punt by the keeper in a clearly offside position. Weiss ran on to score, and in the next five minutes the Catalans got two more, Rui Fonte turning in Romaric's cross from close to goal, and Verdú picking up a loose ball on the edge of the area to poke a shot past Nauzet. Another late win by Pochettino's side, but now they have to travel to the North of Spain next week knowing that they have to at least draw to reach the semi-finals. It ain't going to be easy! (17.01.12)