Barcelona edges Madrid in 1st leg of Copa del Rey semifinals

Real Madrid's Eder Militao, top right, scores an own goal past his goalkeeper during the Spanish Copa del Rey semi final, first leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID (AP) — Barcelona triumphed in the first battle against rival Real Madrid.

The Catalan club won 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals on Thursday — the first of three matches between the Spanish powerhouses in the next few weeks.

Barcelona took the victory with an own-goal by Madrid defender Éder Militão in the first half.

The rivals will also meet in the Spanish league on March 19 in Barcelona and in the return leg of the Copa semifinals on April 5.

It was also the first match between the rivals since it became public Barcelona paid millions of euros over several years to the vice president of the country’s refereeing committee. A banner by Madrid fans at the Bernabéu said: “Clean and white, never tarnished.”

Osasuna defeated Athletic Bilbao 1-0 at home on Wednesday in the first leg of the other semifinal.

It was an even match at the Bernabéu, with the teams struggling to create significant scoring opportunities. Madrid controlled possession but couldn’t break through the Barcelona defense, ending the match without any shots on target.

The visitors took the lead in the 26th when the ball careened off Militão after a run into the area by Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessié. The goal came after Madrid midfielder Eduardo Camavinga lost possession near midfield. It was initially disallowed for an offside by Kessié but later got confirmed after video review.

Barcelona players celebrate after Real Madrid's Eder Militao, left, scoring an own goal past his goalkeeper during the Spanish Copa del Rey semi final on March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

“I’m satisfied with the result but not with how we played,” Barcelona coach Xavi said. “It will be good to play at home in the return leg, with our fans, but I still think that Madrid is the favorite to advance.”

Madrid thought it had opened the scoring with Karim Benzema in the 12th but he was offside. Kessié came close to adding to Barcelona’s lead in the 74th but his shot from the middle of the area was inadvertently deflected near the goal line by teammate Ansu Fati.

Barcelona got the win despite playing without some of its top scorers because of injuries — Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembélé and Pedri, a trio that has combined for 40 goals this season, with 25 coming from Lewandowski. Xavi also couldn’t count on central defender Andreas Christensen because of an injury. He started with Marcos Alonso in Christensen’s place and Ronald Araújo was improvised in the right back position.

Barcelona captain Sergio Busquets played in his 46th “clasico” to surpass former teammate Lionel Messi and Madrid defender Sergio Ramos for most appearances in the game between the clubs.

“It’s an important result that gives us a small advantage for the return match at home,” Busquets said. “We were coming off two losses and were missing some players, so this strengthens the group.”

Barcelona was coming off a 1-0 loss at Almería in the Spanish league, which marked the first time the Catalan club failed to score since October. Before that, it was eliminated by Manchester United in the Europa League playoffs. It leads Madrid by seven points in the league.

Barcelona defeated Madrid 3-1 in the Spanish Super Cup final in January but had lost by the same score in the first “clasico” of the season in a league match at the Bernabéu last year.

Barcelona also got the best of Madrid the last time they met in the Copa, advancing in the 2019 semifinals with a 3-0 win in the second leg at the Bernabéu.

Madrid was without central defender David Alaba and left back Ferland Mendy because of injuries. Rodrygo was back from injury but started on the bench, with Vinícius Junior and Benzema in the starting lineup but not being able to produce much.

“We didn’t deserve the loss, we played well,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “It gives us confidence for the return match. If we can do the same in Barcelona, we will have a chance to advance.”

A fan was detained by security officials after invading the field at the Bernabéu.

Barcelona is the club with most Copa titles with 31, eight more than Athletic. Madrid is next with 19, but none since 2014.

The final will be played on May 6 in Seville.