Eric Abidal netted a rare
but superbly-taken goal to give Barcelona a 2-1 win at
holders Real Madrid in a King's Cup quarter-final first leg on
Wednesday as Pep Guardiola's side tightened their stranglehold
over their rivals.
The France full-back, who extended his contract with the
Spanish and European champions on Monday, galloped on to a
floated Lionel Messi pass 13 minutes from time and calmly
slotted past Iker Casillas to give the 2011 runners-up the
advantage for next week's second leg in Barcelona.
Real forward Cristiano Ronaldo had put the home side ahead
with a breakaway goal in the 11th minute before Barca captain
Carles Puyol flung himself at Xavi's corner to power a header
past Spain team-mate Casillas for a 49th-minute equaliser.
"We won this game but we have to be careful in the return
match because that's going to be another tough test," Abidal,
whose goal was only the fourth of his career, said in a
"I seem to be a cup player," the 32-year-old former
Olympique Lyon player added. "I scored in the cup back in France
and I seem to be doing it again in Spain."
The winners of the tie will face Valencia or their city
neighbours Levante, who play their quarter-final first leg on
On the other side of the draw, headers from the towering
Fernando Llorente and the diminutive Iker Muniain gave Athletic
Bilbao a 2-0 win at home to Real Mallorca in their last-eight
first leg earlier on Wednesday.
If the Basques can hold on in Mallorca next week they will
play 2006 champions Espanyol or third-tier Mirandes, who are
through to the quarters for the first time.
Mirandes stunned Espanyol by opening a two-goal lead in
their first leg on Tuesday before the home side struck three
times in four minutes late on to secure a 3-2 lead for the
second leg in Miranda de Ebro.
Real coach Jose Mourinho sprung a couple of surprises in his
starting line-up for the fourth of a possible eight meetings
between Real and Barca this season.
He included Portuguese compatriot Ricardo Carvalho in
central defence despite the Portugal international not having
played for several months due to injury.
He also deployed Hamit Altintop at right-back, handing the
Turkey international only his third start of the season, and
moved centre-back Pepe forward into midfield to try to thwart
Barca's approach play.
The match quickly settled into a pattern familiar from
recent meetings, with Barca dominating possession and Real
looking to use the pace of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo
Higuain on the break.
After Ronaldo's opener, when Barca goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto
let the ball under his body, Casillas produced smart saves to
deny Messi and Andres Iniesta while Alexis Sanchez sent a
looping header onto a post from a Cesc Fabregas cross.
Pepe, who had earlier been booked, was lucky to stay on the
pitch in the second half after television replays showed he
deliberately stamped on Messi's hand when the World Player of
the Year was sitting on the ground.
There were a few ugly challenges late in the game and
Carvalho was booked for cynically chopping Messi down from
behind as the Argentine was racing away towards goal.
"In the first half we managed to do what we were looking to
but they scored from a set-piece, which seem to be causing us
trouble recently," Casillas told Spanish TV.
"They have their way of playing and we have to congratulate
them but we have to use our weapons. Our goal is to continue
improving every day to be able to compete with Barca and against
all our rivals."
Barca's victory extended Guardiola's recent dominance over
Real. It was his ninth win in 13 'Clasicos' since he took the
helm in 2008 and came on his 41st birthday.
His only reverse was in last year's cup final, when Ronaldo
scored a dramatic extra-time winner in a 1-0 victory.
Barca beat Real 3-1 in La Liga last month, when they also
fell a goal behind, and secured the season-opening Spanish Super
Cup with a 5-4 win over two legs.
Their latest success means they draw level with Real on 86
wins each since they first met in 1902.
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