15 January 2013
Real Madrid took the lead in the tie into an exciting match and took the first step towards the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey. Benzema finished a textbook counter-attack in the 38th to put the Whites ahead, while a Guardado own goal in the second half put the result beyond doubt. The Whites, who have gone one year unbeaten in the Santiago Bernabeu, may have got an even better result if it had not been for Guaita, who made superb stops from two clear shots from Cristiano Ronaldo. Next week, at the Mestalla, it will be decided who will go through.
It wasn’t just another match. Although the tie will have the second and final round of the bout at the Mestalla, at stake was a place in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey and Real Madrid, who have gone one year unbeaten in the Santiago Bernabeu, made their intentions clear from the start. In fact, as soon as Valencia took the kick-off, the Whites stole the ball and it resulted in a free kick that Cristiano Ronaldo came close to giving his team the lead with. That opening move was no more than a prologue to an exciting first half that was played at a cut-throat pace. The chances came for both sides, but the clearest of the first half hour came from the boots of Modric. The Croatian took the ball from Banega after putting him under pressure and started the counter by passing the ball to Benzema. The Frenchman, in turn, gave it back to Modric, who grazed the crossbar with a left-footed shot from the edge of the box in the 9th minute. Three minutes later Ronaldo had another attempt, but his shot from distance was saved by Guaita.
There was no time in the match to think about what was happening. Both teams were giving their all in pursuit of a goal that would increase their chances of getting through to the next round. Valencia had the opportunity to put themselves in front with two consecutive chances that fell to Jonas. His shot from the edge of the area in the 33rd minute went just inches over the crossbar from his first attempt, while two minutes later Casillas was made to show his best from a shot from close to the penalty spot. A possible 0-1 became 1-0 with a textbook counter-attack. Essien started the move with an unstoppable charge forward and gave the ball to Khedira who laid off to Benzema with his first touch. Benzema then finished the exquisite piece of play between the three by masterfully beating Guaita in the 37th minute. The Whites went in at halftime with the advantage.
Jose Mourinho decided to make the first change of the match after the break. Marcelo, who had returned to the starting line-up, was replaced by Coentrao. The script of the match did not change one iota. The two teams fought tirelessly to try to dominate ball possession, but the visitors were perhaps more in need because of the scoreline being against them. Di Maria set foot on the field of play in place of Modric in the 62nd minute. More verticality and opening up of the field in pursuit of a second goal would give the Whites even more chance to go through to the next round with the second leg still left to play.
Valencia did not make things easy and showed the exceptional fitness levels that have given them seven wins in their last eight matches. In fact, they had a very clear chance to level the match. A great individual piece of play by Banega, who saw Piatti’s move up the right wing before passing him the ball. The Argentine played in Soldado, who could not beat Casillas in a one-on-one, but the rebound fell to Jonas who put the ball wide in the 68th minute.
Against a team that pack the punch of the likes that Real Madrid pack, that is unforgiveable and as happened in the first half, a possible goal from the visitors lead to a goal from the home team. Coentrao joined the attack up the left flank and crossed in the ball with which Guardado, in his attempt to clear the ball, put the ball into his own net in the 73rd minute. The tie is up for grabs and had it not been for Guaita, who was superb in two one-on-ones with Cristiano Ronaldo, it could have been an even larger winning margin. Next week, at the Mestalla, it will be decided who will go through.