Barcelona, Jan 27 (AP) Karim Benzema led Real Madrid to a1-0 win at Sevilla before Barcelona rolled over Almeria 5-0 inthe semifinals of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.
Benzema, the much-questioned France striker, answered hiscritics with a valuable away goal in the 17th minute of thefirst-leg match at Sanchez Pizjuan stadium.
Benzema gathered the ball inside the Sevilla half,dribbled into the area and shook off two defenders beforebeating goalkeeper Andres Palop with a low right-footedstrike.Defending champion Sevilla nearly equalized just beforehalftime when Madrid defender Raul Albiol slowed LuisFabiano''s goalbound shot and eventually kept it out of goal.
However, TV replays suggested the ball may have crossed theline.
The tense atmosphere boiled over toward the end whenMadrid keeper Iker Casillas was hit in the head by whatappeared to be a plastic bottle thrown from the stands.
"We have taken away a positive result, but Sevilla is agood team and the second leg will be wide open," Casillassaid.
Madrid returns to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium for nextweek''s return leg looking to secure a place in the final,where biggest rival Barcelona will likely await after anotherdominating performance.
Lionel Messi scored a double and David Villa and PedroRodriguez added goals in the opening 31 minutes. SubstituteSeydou Keita completed the rout in the 89th to leave Almeriawith little hope after suffering a second straight lopsideddefeat to the Spanish champion.
Record 25-time champion Barcelona and 17-time winnerMadrid are on course to meet in the April 20 final, whichcomes just three days after the pair meet in a crucial leaguematch.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola did not want to take thingsfor granted despite his team''s big lead.
"This is clearly an excellent result, but we are stillnot in the final," he said. "We have players for this. Wecreate chances to score."
In Seville, days of goading provided a charged atmosphereas Sevilla pressed forward early but Benzema''s class put thevisitors in control.
The striker''s second game-winning goal in two games cameafter a week when his teammates and coach Jose Mourinhodemanded more from the Frenchman. Madrid brought EmmanuelAdebayor from Manchester City on loan on Tuesday to fill infor the injured Gonzalo Higuain, but Benzema showed he will bean asset to Madrid down the stretch after his individualeffort. More (AP) ATBenzema raced over to the sidelines to celebrate his goal with coach Jose Mourinho, who is steering the Spanish gianttoward its first cup final since 2004. Its last victory camein 1993.
"We all saw Karim play well from the beginning," saidMadrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka. "It was significant thathe celebrated the goal with (Mourinho)."
Sevilla looked to equalize with long balls to forwardsFrederic Kanoute and Luis Fabiano, who came close with aheader at the half-hour mark.
Sevilla looked to have equalized when Kanoute put LuisFabiano through the defense but the linesman ruled Albiol keptthe Brazil striker''s shot from completely crossing the goalline.
"Almost crossing the line is not the same as crossing theline," Casillas said.
A physical second half ensued as both teams looked toscore, but Sevilla grew exacerbated as its attack failed tothreaten Casillas'' goal and Madrid owned the few chances therewere. Mesut Oezil somehow failed to make it 2-0 aftergathering Cristiano Ronaldo''s miss inside the box with Palopout of position but Sevilla defenderAlexis Ruano deflected the ball wide of the open net."We could have scored another goal, but the (result) isgood," said Cristiano Ronaldo.
Substitute Alvaro Negredo missed a shot in the dyingstages for Sevilla, which has not beaten Madrid in atwo-legged domestic cup series since 1955. Madrid has won thefour series since then, including the 1962 final.
Barcelona looked ready to repeat its 8-0 demolition ofAlmeria from earlier this season at the Camp Nou stadium.
Messi got the rout moving in the 10th minute with atrademark left-footed strike from the edge of the area thatgoalkeeper Esteban Andres got a hand to but could not keepout.
Villa doubled the lead a minute later after receiving apass from Xavi Hernandez and picking his spot just inside thefar post.
Messi capped a counterattack in the 16th with anotherleft-footed strike for his 35th goal overall and eighth bracein all competitions this season. Messi''s second goal wasBarcelona''s 100th this season. The club has outscoredopponents 102-22 in 35 matches in all competitions.
Pedro headed in Xavi''s free kick in the 31st for his 18thgoal of the campaign before Keita capped the Catalan club''sfifth 5-0 win ofthe season in the 88th.
Barcelona won its last domestic cup two years ago.
The return legs are played on February 2. (AP) AT