Defending champions Atlético Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 on Thursday night, and with Real Madrid winning by a similar scoreline on Tuesday at Espanyol, a repeat of last season’s cup final could be on the cards at the semi-final stage. The game got off to a cautious start, the only real chances in the first forty minutes or so a couple of efforts off target by Diego Castro, and a shot by Adrián which Herrerín kept out. However with two minutes to go to the break the locals took the lead, Godín getting between his markers to head Koke’s long cross wide of the keeper. Costa was lucky to be let off a second booking for a foul on Laporte on the stroke of half time, and Herrerín had to be on his toes to save from the striker soon after the restart. De Marcos and Mikel Rico both fired shots wide later in the second half, and Godín and Alderweireld went close at the other end, but both coaches settled for the result as the clock ran down to the final whistle. Atlético have the edge on paper, but the return leg will be in the new San Mamés stadium where Athletic are as yet unbeaten, and where they have already turned around 1-0 scorelines in the two previous rounds. Can they do it again next Wednesday? (23.01.14)
Real Sociedad and Barcelona will meet each other in the semi-finals if both make it through, and that is now looking on the cards after both won their first leg ties by comfortable margins. Real Sociedad had a tricky tie against second division B side Racing Santander, who had already knocked Sevilla and Almería out of the cup in previous rounds despite the serious financial problems at the club. In the end though a 3-1 victory should be enough to see them through, even though the visitors came back in the closing minutes to keep themselves in the tie. Central defender Mikel González scored twice in the first half, the opener after Chory Castro crossed in following a corner, and the second with a header from close up after Chory played Vela’s centre back across goal. Local keeper Zubikarai had to be at his best though to push an Andreu free kick on to the bar in-between, but Vela had a strike ruled out for a non existent offside on the stroke of half time, and after the restart the Mexican forward made it three after Xabi Alonso stepped over José Angel’s cross. Chory and Seferovic could have scored more, but with seven minutes to go Koné headed a vital away goal from Iñaki’s cross, and Racing came close to a second after that, Mariano heading just wide and Zubikarai having to tip a dipping Saúl volley over the bar.
Later in the evening Barcelona won 1-4 at Levante, the same team that they drew 1-1 with in the league at the weekend, albeit with seven changes to the starting line-up. Pedro hit the post early on, and Barça won eight corners in the first half to Levante’s none, but the Valencia based side went in to the break one up following a long Pinto free kick, El Zhar beating Pinto at the second attempt after the keeper could only push out his first shot. However a silly own goal when Vyntra’s attempted clearance hit Juanfran and bounced back in to the net broke down their resistance, and a few minutes later Messi (playing his 400 th game for the club) slipped the ball through for Tello to fire a shot under Javi Jiménez for his team’s second. The local keeper did well to save from Messi and Xavi after that, but he was beaten once again by the same combination, another shot by Tello from left of the area after another pinpoint pass by Messi. Tello and Messi went close again as Levante’s tired legs failed them, and with the game coming to a close Tello beat the offside trap to run through and complete his hat-trick, the provider once again Messi with a pass over the top of the defence. The return leg is in the Nou Camp next Wednesday, but nobody is really in doubt as to which team will go through. (22.01.14)
Real Madrid are on track for a place in the last four of the cup after a 0-1 victory at Espanyol in the opening game of the quarter-finals. Despite rumours to the contrary, Ancelotti put out virtually a first choice line-up, only missing Xabi Alonso, who came on after the break. The first chance though fell to the locals, Pizzi firing a shot over the bar in front of goal, but Ronaldo hit the post soon afterwards, and midway through the first half Benzema headed in what was to prove the only goal after Bale headed on Arbeloa’s cross. Ronaldo went close two or three times either side of half time, and Kiko Casilla did well to keep out shots from Arbeloa and Benzema after the restart. Sergio García shot just wide though in reply, and Iker Casillas had to be at his best to save from substitute Córdoba when García put him through later on. A frantic finish came to nothing however, and Benzema’s strike, together with a sixth clean sheet in a row for Madrid (and a personal best for Casillas of 520 minutes without letting in a goal) looks like being enough to see them through. (21.01.14)