Barcelona edge Real Madrid in Copa first-leg semi-final
A tenacious Barcelona have frustrated Real Madrid to secure a 1-0 win over their bitter rivals in an ill-tempered Copa del Rey semi-final first leg.
In what was the first of three matches between the Spanish powerhouses in the next few weeks, Barcelona triumphed after an own-goal by Madrid defender Eder Militao in the first half on Thursday.
The rivals will also meet in the Spanish league on March 19 in Barcelona and in the return leg of the Copa semi-finals on April 5.
It was also the first match between the rivals since it became public Barcelona paid millions of euros over several years to the vice-president of the country's refereeing committee. A banner by Madrid fans at the Bernabeu said: "Clean and white, never tarnished."
Osasuna defeated Athletic Bilbao 1-0 at home on Wednesday in the first leg of the other semi-final.
Barcelona took the lead in the 26th when the ball careened off Militao after a run into the area by Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie.
The goal came after Madrid midfielder Eduardo Camavinga lost possession near midfield. It was initially disallowed for an offside by Kessie but later confirmed after video review.
Madrid thought they had opened the scoring with Karim Benzema in the 12th but he was offside. Kessie came close to adding to Barcelona's lead in the 74th but his shot from the middle of the area was inadvertently deflected near the goal line by teammate Ansu Fati.
Barcelona defeated Madrid 3-1 in the Spanish Super Cup final in January but lost by the same score in the first "clasico" of the season in a league match at the Bernabeu last year.
They also got the best of Madrid the last time they met in the Copa, advancing in the 2019 semi-finals with a 3-0 win in the second leg at the Bernabeu.
Xavi's men got the win Thursday despite playing without some of their top scorers because of injuries - Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele and Pedri, a trio who have combined for 40 goals this season, with 25 coming from Lewandowski.
The visitors also couldn't count on central defender Andreas Christensen because of injury. Xavi started with Marcos Alonso in Christensen's place and Ronald Araujo was improvised in the right back position.
Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets played in his 46th "clasico" to surpass former teammate Lionel Messi and Madrid defender Sergio Ramos for most appearances in the game between the clubs.
Barcelona were coming off a 1-0 loss at Almeria in the Spanish league, which marked the first time the Catalan club failed to score since October. Before that, they were eliminated by Manchester United in the Europa League playoffs. They lead Madrid by seven points in the league.
"We would have liked to have the ball more, to control de game a little more but we fought hard and competed in a high level," Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets told TVE.
"They had the ball but didn't create many chances. We got the advantage for the second leg and that's really important."
Real were without central defender David Alaba and left back Ferland Mendy because of injuries. Rodrygo was back from injury but started on the bench, with Vinicius Junior and Benzema in the starting line-up.
The final will be played on May 6 in Seville.