Barcelona edges Madrid in 1st leg of Copa del Rey semifinals
MADRID (AP) — Barcelona won the first battle against rival Real Madrid on Thursday, picking up a 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals.
In what was the first of three matches between the Spanish powerhouses in the next few weeks, Barcelona triumphed after an own-goal by Madrid defender Éder Militão in the first half.
The rivals will also meet in the Spanish league on March 19 in Barcelona and in the return leg of the Copa semifinals on April 5.
It was also the first match between the rivals since it became public Barcelona paid millions of euros over several years to the vice president of the country’s refereeing committee. A banner by Madrid fans at the Bernabéu said: “Clean and white, never tarnished.”
Osasuna defeated Athletic Bilbao 1-0 at home on Wednesday in the first leg of the other semifinal.
Barcelona took the lead in the 26th when the ball careened off Militão after a run into the area by Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessié. The goal came after Madrid midfielder Eduardo Camavinga lost possession near midfield. It was initially disallowed for an offside by Kessié but later got confirmed after video review.
Madrid thought it had opened the scoring with Karim Benzema in the 12th but he was offside. Kessié came close to adding to Barcelona's lead in the 74th but his shot from the middle of the area was inadvertently deflected near the goal line by teammate Ansu Fati.
Barcelona defeated Madrid 3-1 in the Spanish Super Cup final in January but had lost by the same score in the first “clasico” of the season in a league match at the Bernabéu last year.
Barcelona also got the best of Madrid the last time they met in the Copa, advancing in the 2019 semifinals with a 3-0 win in the second leg at the Bernabéu.
Barcelona got the win Thursday despite playing without some of its top scorers because of injuries — Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri, a trio that has combined for 40 goals this season, with 25 coming from Lewandowski. Coach Xavi also couldn't count on central defender Andreas Christensen because of an injury. He started with Marcos Alonso in Christensen's place and Ronald Araújo was improvised in the right back position.
Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets played in his 46th “clasico” to surpass former teammate Lionel Messi and Madrid defender Sergio Ramos for most appearances in the game between the clubs.
Barcelona was coming off a 1-0 loss at Almería in the Spanish league, which marked the first time the Catalan club failed to score since October. Before that, it was eliminated by Manchester United in the Europa League playoffs. It leads Madrid by seven points in the league.
Madrid was without central defender David Alaba and left back Ferland Mendy because of injuries. Rodrygo was back from injury but started on the bench, with Vinícius Junior and Benzema in the starting lineup.
Barcelona is the club with most Copa titles with 31, eight more than Athletic. Madrid is next with 19, but none since 2014.
The final will be played on May 6 in Seville.
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Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press