Madrid, Barca win 1st legs of cup semis

Barcelona: Karim Benzema led Real Madrid to a
1-0 win at Sevilla before Barcelona rolled over Almeria 5-0 in
the semifinals of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Benzema, the much-questioned France striker, answered his
critics with a valuable away goal in the 17th minute of the
first-leg match at Sanchez Pizjuan stadium.

Benzema gathered the ball inside the Sevilla half,
dribbled into the area and shook off two defenders before
beating goalkeeper Andres Palop with a low right-footed

Defending champion Sevilla nearly equalized just before
halftime when Madrid defender Raul Albiol slowed Luis
Fabiano`s goalbound shot and eventually kept it out of goal.
However, TV replays suggested the ball may have crossed the

The tense atmosphere boiled over toward the end when
Madrid keeper Iker Casillas was hit in the head by what
appeared to be a plastic bottle thrown from the stands.

"We have taken away a positive result, but Sevilla is a
good team and the second leg will be wide open," Casillas

Madrid returns to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium for next
week`s return leg looking to secure a place in the final,
where biggest rival Barcelona will likely await after another
dominating performance.

Lionel Messi scored a double and David Villa and Pedro
Rodriguez added goals in the opening 31 minutes. Substitute
Seydou Keita completed the rout in the 89th to leave Almeria
with little hope after suffering a second straight lopsided
defeat to the Spanish champion.

Record 25-time champion Barcelona and 17-time winner
Madrid are on course to meet in the April 20 final, which
comes just three days after the pair meet in a crucial league

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola did not want to take things
for granted despite his team`s big lead.

"This is clearly an excellent result, but we are still
not in the final," he said. "We have players for this. We
create chances to score."

In Seville, days of goading provided a charged atmosphere
as Sevilla pressed forward early but Benzema`s class put the
visitors in control.

The striker`s second game-winning goal in two games came
after a week when his teammates and coach Jose Mourinho
demanded more from the Frenchman. Madrid brought Emmanuel
Adebayor from Manchester City on loan on Tuesday to fill in
for the injured Gonzalo Higuain, but Benzema showed he will be
an asset to Madrid down the stretch after his individual

Benzema raced over to the sidelines to celebrate his goal
with coach Jose Mourinho, who is steering the Spanish giant
toward its first cup final since 2004. Its last victory came
in 1993.

"We all saw Karim play well from the beginning," said
Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka. "It was significant that
he celebrated the goal with (Mourinho)."

Sevilla looked to equalize with long balls to forwards
Frederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano, who came close with a
header at the half-hour mark.

Sevilla looked to have equalized when Kanoute put Luis
Fabiano through the defense but the linesman ruled Albiol kept
the Brazil striker`s shot from completely crossing the goal

"Almost crossing the line is not the same as crossing the
line," Casillas said.

A physical second half ensued as both teams looked to
score, but Sevilla grew exacerbated as its attack failed to
threaten Casillas` goal and Madrid owned the few chances there
were. Mesut Oezil somehow failed to make it 2-0 after
gathering Cristiano Ronaldo`s miss inside the box with Palop
out of position but Sevilla defender
Alexis Ruano deflected the ball wide of the open net.

"We could have scored another goal, but the (result) is
good," said Cristiano Ronaldo.

Substitute Alvaro Negredo missed a shot in the dying
stages for Sevilla, which has not beaten Madrid in a
two-legged domestic cup series since 1955. Madrid has won the
four series since then, including the 1962 final.

Barcelona looked ready to repeat its 8-0 demolition of
Almeria from earlier this season at the Camp Nou stadium.

Messi got the rout moving in the 10th minute with a
trademark left-footed strike from the edge of the area that
goalkeeper Esteban Andres got a hand to but could not keep

Villa doubled the lead a minute later after receiving a
pass from Xavi Hernandez and picking his spot just inside the
far post.

Messi capped a counterattack in the 16th with another
left-footed strike for his 35th goal overall and eighth brace
in all competitions this season. Messi`s second goal was
Barcelona`s 100th this season. The club has outscored
opponents 102-22 in 35 matches in all competitions.

Pedro headed in Xavi`s free kick in the 31st for his 18th
goal of the campaign before Keita capped the Catalan club`s
fifth 5-0 win ofthe season in the 88th.

Barcelona won its last domestic cup two years ago.

The return legs are played on February 2.

Bureau Report