Sevilla took a massive step toward the UEFA Europa League final, scoring twice in the first half on the way to a 2-0 victory at home to Valencia in the first leg of their semi-final tie Thursday evening at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan.
The second leg is scheduled for next Thursday at the Mestalla, where Valencia will have to score at least twice to remain alive.
Thursday's match came during an important stretch for Sevilla, who in addition to their Europa League campaign are trying to qualify for next season's Champions League via their domestic finish.
Unai Emery's side currently trail fourth-placed Athletic Bilbao by three points in the La Liga table, but travel to Bilbao's San Mames for a crucial match on Sunday.
Valencia, meanwhile, are eighth in La Liga, seven points adrift of the Europa League qualifying spots.
Sevilla took control of the match—and the tie—with two goals in three first-half minutes. Stephane Mbia put the hosts ahead, finishing with a neat back-heel flick from Daniel Carrico's free-kick in the 33rd minute.
Replays suggested Mbia was offside, but referee Damir Skomina allowed to goal anyway.
Three minutes later, Sevilla doubled their advantage through a familiar source. After playing a one-two along the edge of the box, Carlos Bacca cut to his right before finishing back across his body at the far post for a 2-0 lead heading into half-time.
Valencia took more chances in the second half, as they searched for a goal to get back into the tie. Jeremy Mathieu came close with a 52nd-minute free-kick, but his shot curled into the side netting.
It was nearly 3-0 in the 56th minute as Bacca ran onto Ivan Rakitic's pass and shot on target, but Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita saved the attempt.
Valencia came close again in the 66th minute, but Eduardo Vargas curled his shot just wide of the post. The visitors had another chance in the closing moments, but Sevilla goalkeeper Beto saved from Jonas before Vargas hit the bar with a header.
It turned out to be Valencia's last big chance, and after riding out stoppage time, Sevilla held on for a two-goal victory that could prove invaluable in the second leg.
"We’ve had a good game against Valencia, a great opponent," Bacca said, per Inside Spanish Football. "Regardless of the outcome, though, it won’t be an easy game (at the Mestalla)."
Bacca added: "One of the most important things was keeping a clean sheet here. We could have scored a third by they were also very good and could have scored."
|Sevilla Player Ratings|
|Jose Antonio Reyes||6||5|
|Marko Marin (for Reyes, 59')||N/A||6|
|Kevin Gameiro (for Bacca, 73')||N/A||6|
|Vicente Iborra (for Vitolo, 90')||N/A||6|
|Valencia Player Ratings|
|Jose Gaya (for Bernat, 46')||N/A||7|
|Pablo Piatti (for Fede, 57')||N/A||7|
|Jonas (for Feghouli, 74')||N/A||6|