Real Madrid and Barcelona set to meet in Copa del Rey final
Real beat city rivals Atletico Madrid 3-0 in semifinal first leg
Barca triumph 2-0 against 10-man Real Sociedad
Barcelona and Real Madrid are on course to meet in the Copa del Rey final for only the second time in 24 years after the great rivals cruised in the opening legs of their semifinals.
Real will be the happier of the sides, having impressed against Atletico Madrid when winning 3-0 at home, so inflicting the La Liga leaders’ first defeat in 25 matches.
Barca were also at home but had to settle for a modest 2-0 win against Real Sociedad even though the visitors had to play an entire half with just ten men.
Read: Atletico pay tribute to late Aragones in style
After losing to Valencia on Saturday, as their first home league defeat in nearly two years knocked them off the top of La Liga, coach Gerardo Martino had stressed the need to ‘cut short’ any crisis.
The hosts took the lead late in the first half through Sergio Busquets, with defender Inigo Martinez sent off immediately after, with the visitors furious that Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano had avoided both a potential red card and the concession of a penalty when hauling back Carlos Vela moments earlier.
Barcelona’s second came courtesy of a bizarre own goal as defender Gorka Elustondo’s attempted clearance thumped into the chest of goalkeeper Enaut Zubikarai before crossing the line.
However, Barcelona’s former assistant coach Henk Ten Cate, who worked at the club under Frank Rijkaard between 2003-2006, was far from impressed.
Read: Shock home defeat worries Barca boss
“That was the worst Barcelona display I have seen in the last six years,” the Dutchman told British television channel Sky Sports.
“Barcelona needs a new team, as this is not a Barca that can compete with the best in Europe.”
Cate’s comments come a fortnight before the four-time European champions take on English Premier League side Manchester City in the Last 16 of the Champions League.
They also come in the wake of last month’s resignation of president Sandro Rosell, who stepped down because of a legal wrangle over the transfer of Neymar last June.
Barca fans also seemed to be voting with their feet, as the crowd of 38,000 was the club’s second lowest this season.
Meanwhile Real Madrid, who take on Germans Schalke in the Champions League later this month, won a hotly contested Madrid derby thanks to goals from Pepe, Jese and Angel Di Maria.
“My wish is to have a team like the one that played tonight,” enthused Real’s Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti.
A perfect scoreline was added to when Atletico striker Diego Costa, with 20 league goals this season, earned the booking that ruled him out of next week’s return leg.
The suspension compounded a miserable night for the 25-year-old who was victimized by Real defensive duo Pepe and Alvaro Arbeloa.
“We tried but we just couldn’t find a way tonight,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said afterwards.
Atletico won last season’s Copa del Rey after beating Real 2-1 in a final which was also littered with cynical fouls and gamesmaship.
After meeting in the 1990 final, Real and Barca have contested the Copa del Rey decider just once – when Jose Mourinho’s Madrid won 1-0 in 2011 thanks to an extra-time winner from Cristiano Ronaldo.
The following year, it was Barcelona’s turn to get their hands on the trophy as they beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0.
This year’s final is set to take place on April 19.
In Italy, a double from Gervinho, including a winner just two minutes from time, gave Roma a 3-2 victory over Napoli in the first leg of their Italian Cup semifinal.
The in-form Ivorian’s goals gave Roma their sixth straight win and frustrated a Napoli side that had managed to level the scores despite trailing 2-0 after 32 minutes.