Soccer

Benezema gives Real a first-leg lead over Espanyol in Copa

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The Canadian Press
1/21/2014 5:17:06 PM
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BARCELONA, Spain -- A first-half goal from Karim Benzema guided Real Madrid to a 1-0 win at Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Nine days after Madrid eked out a 1-0 victory at Espanyol's Cornella-El Prat Stadium in the Spanish league, the visitors were again limited to the narrowest of winning margins -- despite dominating the first half, when Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post before Benzema headed home in the 25th minute.

The second half was more evenly matched and Espanyol's Sergio Garcia came close to an equalizer before Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas denied Jhon Cordoba in a one-on-one in the 83rd minute.

"Espanyol played better in the second half and made us suffer, but that is normal," Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. "The tie isn't decided."

Casillas had a quiet first half, with Espanyol only mustering one clear scoring chance in the 18th when Luis "Pizzi" Afonso wasted Garcia's pass by sailing his close-range shot over the crossbar.

Early on, Ronaldo appeared eager as ever to add to his season tally of 31 goals in all competitions. He had four shots before halftime and hit the post with one of them in the 21st minute, but the new Ballon d'Or winner faded in the second half.

Benzema broke the deadlock when the France international headed a cross from Alvaro Arbeloa that was flicked on by Gareth Bale. Goalkeeper Kiko Casilla got a hand on the ball but couldn't keep it out.

Espanyol pressed forward after halftime and Garcia twice shot wide, while Casilla stopped Arbeloa twice before denying Benzema on the break.

The closing stages swung back in Espanyol's favour and Casillas was forced to rush out to stop substitute Cordoba before weathering a final barrage of corner kicks.

Ancelotti praised Casillas, who only starts in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, while Diego Lopez plays in the Spanish league.

"I want to congratulate Casillas because he is playing well," Ancelotti said. "Iker is just as much a starter as Diego Lopez."

In other first legs this week, Barcelona visits Levante on Wednesday, when third-tier Racing Santander plays at Real Sociedad.

Defending champion Atletico Madrid hosts Athletic Bilbao on Thursday.

The second legs will be played next week.

Karim Benzema (Photo: Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Angel Martinez/Getty Images)
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