Real Madrid are set for an El Clásico Copa del Rey final with Barcelona after they beat neighbors Atlético Madrid 3-0 in an eventful semi-final first leg.
Two deflected goals helped win the the tie for the home side. Los Merengues, without injured Welshman Gareth Bale, took a the lead when Pepe’s shot deflected of Emiliano Insua. Real Madrid doubled their lead through the much-heralded Jesé, who came through the Real youth system. The forward finished off a pass from Argentine Angel Di Maria before the latter watched his own effort deflect off Miranda and past Thibaut Courtois into the net.
Cross-city rivals Atlético will lament having created so few chances and will be ruing the booking of Diego Costa, which will rule him out of the second leg. To put that into context, Costa’s 20 goals in 22 league games have helped Atlético’s ascent to the top of La Liga. However, Real targeted the Brazilian-born striker – who has opted to switch allegiance to the Spanish national team ahead of the 2014 World Cup in his homeland – with a series illegitimate tactics.
First Pepe tested Costa with a rough challenge before Alvaro Arbeloa went a step further by raking his studs down the striker’s Achilles tendon when both sides were waiting for a free-kick. Nevertheless, Costa had a readiness to go down at the slightest bit of contact and so drew hostility from the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu crowd. Finally, the referee handed him a yellow card after he reacted to a challenge from Di Maria.
For Real it was a case of normal service resumed as Atlético’s 2-1 Copa del Rey final victory of Los Blancos last season was their first victory in the fixture in 26 clashes. The 3-0 scoreline certainly did not flatter Real as they dominated proceedings when the ball was in play long enough.
Probably the biggest shining light for Real boss Carlo Ancelotti was the fine performance of 20-year-old Jesé, who has tormented sides this season. Against Atlético, it was more of the same and his goal was no more than the forward deserved. It was also a big night for legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas who is not only enjoying a renewed run in the team, but he achieved a club record eight successive clean sheets. The Spaniard was a target for Premier League side Arsenal but the player has decided to stay where he is. Should Real Madrid complete the job in the second leg, they will be set for an El Clásico final with Catalan giants and reigning champions Barcelona, who defeated Real Sociedad 2-0 in the competition’s other semi-final first leg.
The Madridistas will also be ready to welcome back Cristiano Ronaldo whose sending-off in Sunday’s draw with Athletic Bilbao will only see him banned for the league matches against Villarreal, Getafe and Elche. Real have 10 days to appeal against the decision.
The FIFA Ballon d’Or winner courted further controversy when he left the pitch against Bilbao as he appeared to slap his cheek on numerous occasions. The gesture is seen to mock someone who has chutzpah and was perceived as criticism of the officials’ decision.
Ronaldo is currently the leading scorer in the Primera Division this season with 22 goals in 21 games. He currently sits third in the standings league. Nevertheless, the fact Real Madrid and Barcelona’s results mean both sides are set for an El Clásico final is what is on the neutral’s mind.
By Robert Shepherd