William Carvalho’s brilliant goal edged Real Betis one step closer to the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday as they beat Rayo Vallecano 2-1 in the first leg at Vallecas. Rayo, who have never reached the final, took an early lead through Alvaro Garcia but Betis came storming back, Borja Iglesias driving in before Carvalho nutmegged Alejandro Catena and sidefooted into the corner. Betis will now look to finish the job at the Benito Villamarin on March 3, with the winner of the tie to face either Valencia or Athletic Bilbao, who play the first leg of their semi-final at San Mames on Thursday.
Betis are the highest placed La Liga team left in the Copa del Rey this season after they knocked out Sevilla and Real Madrid were beaten by Athletic in the quarter-finals.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side are sitting third in the league and pose a major threat to Atletico Madrid and Barcelona securing qualification for the Champions League.
But winning the cup for the first time since 2005 would perhaps be an even greater achievement.
Rayo, with Radamel Falcao, are the underdogs of the last four and their fans made it a carnival atmosphere at Vallecas, where supporters even watched from the balconies of flats close enough to the stadium to look over the pitch.
The players fed off the support in the opening 10 minutes and grabbed an early lead when Ivan Balliu chipped a cross to the back post, where Alvaro did well to tuck a controlled finish into the corner.
But the game settled and so did Betis, with Nabil Fekir increasingly influential and Rayo struggling to regain a foothold.
The equaliser came in the 26th minute when Fekir played into Borja on the edge of the area and he arrowed a shot, low and into the corner.
Betis might have taken the lead before half-time when Fekir spurned an excellent chance on the break but they did in the second, Carvalho poking the ball through the legs of Catena, collecting it the other side and sidefooting in to give his team the advantage.