Valencia down Levante 4-1 to close on King`s Cup semis

Madrid: Valencia took a giant stride towards securing a King`s Cup semi-final showdown with holders Real Madrid or 2011 runners-up Barcelona when they thumped city rivals Levante 4-1 in their quarter-final first leg.

Former Spain midfielder Pablo Hernandez had a hand in three of Valencia`s goals at the Mestalla to help give the 2008 winners a healthy advantage ahead of next week`s second leg at Levante`s Ciutat de Valencia stadium.

Jonas ran on to an Hernandez pass and fired under goalkeeper Keylor Navas to give the home side a 24th-minute lead before Roberto Soldado struck in the 31st after the Levante defence failed to deal with Hernandez`s cross.

Arouna Kone pulled a goal back when he crashed a volley into the roof of the net from edge of area six minutes later and Pablo Piatti beat Navas to another Hernandez centre to make it 3-1 in first-half added time.

The flow of the match was disrupted in the second half by a slew of fouls and some ugly confrontations between players and 10 of the 11 yellow cards shown by the referee came in the second period.

Kone came close to scoring a second in the 89th minute but was denied by a superb save from Valencia keeper Diego Alves before a deflected Tino Costa effort in the fourth minute of added time looped up over substitute keeper Gustavo Munua to make it 4-1.

Breathing Space

"We had a few counter-attacks at the end that we could have exploited better but I think that last goal gives us a lot of breathing space for the return leg," Soldado said in an interview with Spanish television.

"Our idea was to avoid conceding a goal, which is important in a first leg at home, but our fourth will probably turn out to be very important," added the former Real Madrid striker, who is hoping for a callup to the Spain squad for this year`s European Championship finals.

Barca came from a goal down to beat Real 2-1 on Wednesday, Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal netting after Cristiano Ronaldo had put Jose Mourinho`s side, who beat their arch rivals 1-0 in last year`s final, 1-0 up in the 11th minute at the Bernabeu.

On the other side of the draw, Athletic Bilbao have a 2-0 advantage over Real Mallorca after the Basques won Wednesday`s first leg at the San Mames.

If they can hold on in Mallorca next week they will play 2006 champions Espanyol or third-tier Mirandes, who are through to the quarters for the first time.

Mirandes stunned Espanyol by opening a two-goal lead in their first leg on Tuesday before the home side struck three times in four minutes late on to secure a 3-2 lead for the second leg in Miranda de Ebro.

Bureau Report

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