Real Madrid put themselves in the driving seat to reach the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey as goals from Karim Benzema and Jese Rodriguez gave them a 2-0 victory over Osasuna in the first leg of their last-16 tie at the Bernabeu.
Benzema’s header had Madrid in front inside 20 minutes, but it wasn’t until the second half that Madrid really got going. Young forward Jese continued his run of impressive performances by finishing off after an awful error by Osasuna defender Oier and, in truth, the score-line should have been far more emphatic. Uncharacteristically, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who was the main culprit in front of goal.
Madrid will have been determined to get a strong result on their own turf, having only won one of their last five encounters at Osasuna’s El Sadar Stadium, including just last month when they had to come from two goals down to salvage a draw.
That scenario never looked on the cards this time around, despite Madrid again failing to fire on all cylinders. Carlo Ancelotti selected a strong side, with Gareth Bale coming back into the starting lineup at the expense of Angel di Maria, while Xabi Alonso was kept out by problems related to his recent burst eardrum. And alongside, Alonso’s replacement Asier Illarramendi, Luka Modric was superb, orchestrating the play throughout.
Osasuna, contrastingly made seven changes from their weekend victory over Espanyol and, while putting together some neat passing combinations carried little threat to their opponents.
Madrid had a couple of efforts off target early on, but the game really got going with an extraordinary piece of officiating 17 minutes in. Jese raced through on goal but was denied by a fine challenge by Asier Riesgo racing from his goal, only to see referee Perez Montero signal for a penalty. But with the Osasuna players rightly incensed, Montero appeared to get a word in his earpiece from one of his assistants and then promptly booked the Madrid attacker for a dive. It was a ludicrous moment of indecision, with both rulings incorrect.
With the dust still settling from that controversy, Madrid took the lead. Modric’s delivery from a free-kick out on the left was exemplary, but Osasuna’s defending still left much to be desired as the just-onside Benzema was allowed an almost free header in the center of goal six yards out and directed the ball into the bottom corner.
Madrid failed to build on that goal, though, with Ronaldo swerving and dripping free-kick that hit the stanchion behind the goal the closest they came to adding to their tally before the break. Things could have been even worse for the home side, with Osasuna missing a glorious chance to get back on level terms.
Right-back Oier had already headed off target from a free-kick when the ball arrived at his feet with a clear sight of goal on the penalty spot, only for him to scuff his effort horribly wide. His evening was about to get much worse in the second half.
On the hour mark, Oier was caught wanting on the defensive end with a pass back toward his own goal that was difficult to comprehend and allowed Benzema to easily get on the end of it on the edge of the box. The ball was quickly shifted inside for Ronaldo, whose first time ball square was over hit, but Jese was still able to fire it into the back of the net.
In truth Madrid should already have been 2-0 before Jese’s strike. Ronaldo had headed over the bar from a corner, while he produced a tame finish straight into the arms of the Osasuna goalkeeper when looking set to score. And the favorite to claim the Ballon d’Or next week continued his unusually profligate evening after Madrid’s second goal by volleying wide of the target when being found by a glorious pass over the Osasuna defense by Modric.
An evening to forget for Ronaldo was complete when he inadvertently blocked Bale’s goal-bound shot. Unless Osasuna produce a vastly improved and more ambitious performance in the second leg in Pamplona, though, those missed opportunities will not prove costly.