Barcelona and Real Madrid are on course for a Copa del Rey final showdown after they both recorded convincing home wins in their semi-final first legs on Wednesday.
Real thumped holders Atletico Madrid 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu to gain a measure of revenge for the 2-1 defeat they suffered in last year’s final at the same venue, while record winners Barca beat 10-man Real Sociedad 2-0 at the Camp Nou.
Barca and Real last met in the final in 2011, when a Cristiano Ronaldo header in extra-time secured the trophy for los Blancos, and if they successfully negotiate next week’s return legs they will meet on April 19 at a yet-to-be determined venue.
Atletico climbed to the top of La Liga at the weekend, but their first defeat in 25 matches in all competitions since October last year brought Diego Simeone’s side down to Earth with a bump.
Last year’s Copa final was marred by red cards and brawling, and the bad blood between Real and Atletico was again evident at Wednesday’s match, which was littered with cynical fouls and gamesmanship.
After a cautious opening, Atletico playmaker Arda Turan had the first genuine chance when he tested Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas with a header in the 13th minute.
However, Real went ahead four minutes later when centerback Pepe galloped forward and his speculative shot hit Emiliano Insua, wrong-footed goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and deflected into the net.
Atletico defender Diego Godin headed over when well-placed early in the second half, but Real doubled their lead just before the hour when a superb Angel Di Maria pass released Jese and he poked the ball past Courtois.
Luka Modric cleared another Godin header off the line in the 72nd minute and Real landed a stunning blow a minute later with another deflected effort.
Di Maria let fly from distance and the ball struck Atletico defender Miranda before spinning past the helpless Courtois.
Real coach Carlo Ancelotti said it was possibly his side’s best performance since he took over from Jose Mourinho in the close season.
“We were very effective in winning back the ball and we worked well down the wings,” the Italian said. “My wish is to have a team like the one that played tonight, but we have to stay cautious as we have only played the first half of the tie and Atletico will do all they can to turn it around.”
At a half-empty Camp Nou, Barca had little trouble dominating a defense-minded Sociedad and Lionel Messi cracked a scorching free-kick against the crossbar, before Sergio Busquets opened the scoring shortly before halftime.
The Spain midfielder pounced on a loose ball at a corner before Inigo Martinez was shown a straight red card by the referee for protesting.
The Sociedad defender and his teammates were incensed that they were not awarded a penalty moments earlier when Barca centerback Javier Mascherano appeared to haul Carlos Vela to the ground.
Barca’s second on the hour was a bizarre own-goal. Cesc Fabregas sent Alexis Sanchez clear and when his shot came back off a post Gorka Elustondo’s attempted clearance hit goalkeeper Enaut Zubikarai and cannoned into the net.
Outnumbered Sociedad did well not to concede again as Barca mounted wave after wave of attacks, but the Basque club’s bid for their first Copa since 1987 looks to be over.