First-half goal from Karim Benzema guides Real Madrid to a 1-0 win at Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final on Tuesday
Madrid: Real Madrid took a huge step towards the Copa del Rey semi-finals with a 1-0 win away to Espanyol in the first-leg of their quarter-final tie on Tuesday. Karim Benzema got the only goal of the game as he headed home Alvaro Arbeloa's cross on 25 minutes.
Espanyol were indebted to goalkeeper Kiko Casilla for not having an even greater deficit to overcome next Tuesday at the Santiago Bernabeu as he made a string of fine saves to keep his side in the tie.
However, they should have snatched a draw on the night as Colombian striker Jhon Cordoba fired straight at Iker Casillas when played through on goal eight minutes from time.
That save extended Casillas personal record of not having conceded for the last 592 minutes in which he has kept goal and Real boss Carlo Ancelotti lauded the Spanish captain's professionalism having been dropped from La Liga duty in favour of Diego Lopez action for over a year.
"I congratulate Iker because he is doing very well, he deserves his record for his professionalism," he said.
"He made a save at the end and has played very well in all the games in which he has played. We have a lot of games at the moment and so both (goalkeepers) are playing the same number of games and Iker is as important as Diego Lopez is."
Ancelotti had named a very strong starting line-up and was rewarded with a commanding display from his side as they extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 18 games.
And the Italian was delighted to take a lead into the second-leg despite holding on a little towards the end. "This is the quarter-finals of the Cup so you have to play your strongest team and it is clear that the tie is still alive.
"We only struggled in the last 20 minutes. I thought the team did very well and played with quality, rhythm and intensity. "We kept a clean sheet, the team played well and I am happy. It is normal when you miss a lot of opportunities to score the second goal then you will suffer a bit towards the end."
Cristiano Ronaldo had his side's first serious effort on goal with a low drive that Casilla did very well to turn onto the inside of the post. Madrid did take the lead midway through the half as Gareth Bale flicked on Arbeloa's cross and Benzema powered home a header for his 14th goal of the season.
Casilla then saved from Benzema and a Bale free-kick, whilst Angel di Maria ballooned another clear opening well over the bar. Espanyol posed more of a threat at the beginning of the second period as Garcia curled an effort inches wide of Casillas' right-hand post.
However, the visitors should have left Barcelona with a more substantial lead as Casilla denied Arbeloa twice from close range before Benzema forced the keeper into another smart save low to his left when he should have squared for the completely unmarked Ronaldo in the middle.
And Madrid were nearly made to pay as Casillas had to make a brave block from Cordoba before Marcelo cleared off the line following a goalmouth scramble in the latter stages to seal the victory and a sixth consecutive clean sheet for Los Blancos.