Real Madrid had Iker Casillas and some last-gasp defending to thank as they held on to secure a 1-0 first-leg victory over Espanyol in the Copa del Rey on Tuesday.
Karim Benzema’s first-half strike was the difference as Carlo Ancelotti’s side claimed an advantage to take back to the Santiago Bernabeu next week, although it needed a few late saves from Casillas and some frantic defending from those around him to preserve that status as Espanyol finished strongly.
The solitary goal of the game came in the 25th minute. Alvaro Arbeloa’s cross from the right skimmed Gareth Bale's at the near post, but Benzema was coming in behind and duly planted his header in the corner, beating Kiko Casilla with some help from the post.
Espanyol, however, seemed to grow in confidence and encouragement as the game went on, with Casillas forced into a good one-on-one save from substitute Jhon Cordoba in the closing minutes.
Casillas was not the only goalkeeper who impressed on the night, however, with Casilla doing everything in his power to keep the home side in touching distance as time and again he sprung into action to frustrate Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale and Isco.
Espanyol carried their own threat at the other end of the pitch, with Sergio Garcia—absent from Real’s La Liga victory at the same venue nine days ago—a constant presence. His cutback nearly broke the deadlock in the 18th minute, but Pizzi snatched at the opening as he skewed his shot over the crossbar.
Inside 10 minutes later Real were ahead, but as they briefly enjoyed dominance of the contest, they could not extend their lead further, as Ronaldo was denied with two good openings and Bale's devilish free-kick was palmed away..
In the second half the momentum seemed to swing, and Espanyol had chances to equalise. Garcia shot narrowly wide from range before Benzema spurned a one-on-one opportunity.
With 10 minutes remaining Cordoba was introduced, and the youngster’s physical style seemed to open up the game for the hosts. But he wasted Espanyol’s best chance when Casillas blocked his straight effort, and when Marcelo cleared off the line from a subsequent corner, Real could hold on for the first-leg win.
"Espanyol played better in the second half and made us suffer, but that is normal," Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said afterwards, per CBC Sport. "The tie isn't decided."
|Real Madrid Player Ratings|
|Angel Di Maria||7|
|Espanyol Player Ratings|
Real Madrid host Granada at the Santiago Bernabeu in the league on Saturday, while Espanyol have an away trip to Valencia on the same day.
The two teams reconvene for the second leg of this cup tie next Tuesday.