Valencia salvage lifeless draw; Sevilla eye Copa del Rey semis

Paco Alcacer came to rescue Los Che at the Mestalla and will take a 1-1 draw back to Las Palmas next week.

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Paco Alcacer got Valencia a vital goal but even an improved second half effort could not get the home side anything better than a 1-1 draw with Las Palmas in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal Thursday.

Valencia had gone into the interval down 1-0 thanks to an own-goal after a lackluster opening half. They responded with more focus and attacking force after the interval but head to next Thursday’s second leg in the Canaries without a lead and having conceded an away goal.

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In fact, that Las Palmas goal in the 38th minute was completely down to Valencia’s Wilfried Zahibo, whose foul set up the free kick that he turned into his own net. When Momo’s free came over to the far post, Zahibo was inside the pressure of the leaping Aythami but he succeeded only in heading past his keeper Matt Ryan and into the far right corner.

That was the highlight of an otherwise drab first half, Las Palmas content to defend its own half of the field, Valencia unable to string anything together with enough speed to open the door. The closest Gary Neville’s side came was early when a pair of poor back-passes from Emmanuel Culio almost let Paco Alcacer and Rodrigo in. Keeper Raul Lizoain did well to deny Alcacer with a diving block, then beat Rodrigo to possession.

Another horrid back-pass nearly caused Raul slice the ball into his own net five minutes into the second half as Valencia began to get to grips with the challenge in front of them. That more vigorous attack paid off a minute past the hour when Alcacer’s drive from the edge of the defense nestled inside the far left post. Daniel Parejo’s approach work opened the way but that proved to be only time the hosts could finish an attack.

Las Palmas defended in depth and chased down space in midfield, but Valencia seemed unable to find a consistent rhythm going forward as their struggles continued. When they did threaten it was usually Alcacer trying to get on the end of something, but the visiting defenders were alert to danger from crosses and the Las Palmas midfield did well to hold possession and relieve pressure in the closing stages.

In Thursday night’s other Copa quarterfinal, Steven N’Zonzi fashioned a goal from amidst a ruck of players and Vitolo grabbed a vital second in the fifth minute of stoppage time as Sevilla may have done enough against the outsiders from Mirandes. The 2-0 final scoreline was hard-earned but likely is enough to ease the La Liga team’s path into the semifinals.   

Mirandes, a mid-table Second Division side, will host the second leg next week and had every reason to believe they were still in the hunt for an unlikely spot in the semi-finals until Vitolo’s late strike may have put the task beyond them.   

N’Zonzi shot Sevilla on top in the 20th minute after a Daniel Carrico free kick fell to him in the box to create a close-range opportunity. The free came low into a mass of players, was never really controlled by the Mirandes defenders and eventually came to N’Zonzi from an attempted back-heel that caromed to the scorer.   

Sevilla nearly made it two when Jose Reyes nutmegged a defender as he made a neat run along the right byeline in the 55th minute only for his shot to be turned past the far post by Mirandes’ keeper Raul. Their attacks were sporadic, however, and too often lacking in the necessary bite. 

Michael Krohn-Dehli had another gilt-edged chance in the 83rd minute when he took a pass from Ever Banega but Raul advanced smartly and blocked the shot away. Raul also dove at the feet of Kevin Gameiro to sweep away an 88th minute half-chance.   

The attacks continued to Sevilla’s credit and they finally got the second deep into stoppage time when Krohn-Dehli raced in at the back post to meet a looping Mariano cross, turning the ball into the path of the scorer for the sharp finish.