Carvalho’s goal gives Betis edge over Rayo in Copa semifinal

February 9, 2022 GMT
FILE - Betis' head coach Manuel Pellegrini gives instructions to his players during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Betis and Real Madrid at Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville, Spain, Aug. 28, 2021. Being a fan of Spanish club Real Betis fan wasn’t much fun not long ago. Then came coach Manuel Pellegrini, and it didn’t take long before Betis’ fans started having reason to cheer again. Betis visits Rayo Vallecano in the first leg of the Copa semifinals on Wednesday Feb. 9, 2022, looking to return to the final for the first time since it won its last title in any competition in 2005. (AP Photo/Jose Breton, File)
FILE - Betis' head coach Manuel Pellegrini gives instructions to his players during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Betis and Real Madrid at Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville, Spain, Aug. 28, 2021. Being a fan of Spanish club Real Betis fan wasn’t much fun not long ago. Then came coach Manuel Pellegrini, and it didn’t take long before Betis’ fans started having reason to cheer again. Betis visits Rayo Vallecano in the first leg of the Copa semifinals on Wednesday Feb. 9, 2022, looking to return to the final for the first time since it won its last title in any competition in 2005. (AP Photo/Jose Breton, File)
FILE - Betis' head coach Manuel Pellegrini gives instructions to his players during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Betis and Real Madrid at Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville, Spain, Aug. 28, 2021. Being a fan of Spanish club Real Betis fan wasn’t much fun not long ago. Then came coach Manuel Pellegrini, and it didn’t take long before Betis’ fans started having reason to cheer again. Betis visits Rayo Vallecano in the first leg of the Copa semifinals on Wednesday Feb. 9, 2022, looking to return to the final for the first time since it won its last title in any competition in 2005. (AP Photo/Jose Breton, File)
FILE - Betis' head coach Manuel Pellegrini gives instructions to his players during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Betis and Real Madrid at Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville, Spain, Aug. 28, 2021. Being a fan of Spanish club Real Betis fan wasn’t much fun not long ago. Then came coach Manuel Pellegrini, and it didn’t take long before Betis’ fans started having reason to cheer again. Betis visits Rayo Vallecano in the first leg of the Copa semifinals on Wednesday Feb. 9, 2022, looking to return to the final for the first time since it won its last title in any competition in 2005. (AP Photo/Jose Breton, File)
FILE - Betis' head coach Manuel Pellegrini gives instructions to his players during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Betis and Real Madrid at Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville, Spain, Aug. 28, 2021. Being a fan of Spanish club Real Betis fan wasn’t much fun not long ago. Then came coach Manuel Pellegrini, and it didn’t take long before Betis’ fans started having reason to cheer again. Betis visits Rayo Vallecano in the first leg of the Copa semifinals on Wednesday Feb. 9, 2022, looking to return to the final for the first time since it won its last title in any competition in 2005. (AP Photo/Jose Breton, File)

MADRID (AP) — Surrounded by defenders inside the area, William Carvalho came up with a solution that would make most top strikers proud.

Without panicking, the Real Betis midfielder pulled off a neat nutmeg to get past the defender standing in front of him, sending the ball in-between his legs before calmly firing a low shot into the back of the net.

The goal gave Betis a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals on Wednesday, putting the Sevilla club in position to return to the final for the first time since 2005.

The second leg will be played in Sevilla on March 3. In the first leg of the other semifinal on Thursday, Athletic Bilbao hosts Valencia looking to make it to its third straight final.

Rayo opened the scoring five minutes into the match at its Vallecas Stadium with a close-range header by Álvaro García. Betis equalized in the 26th with a low shot from outside the area by forward Borja Iglesia.

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Carvalho’s winner came in the 68th after the nifty move to get past Rayo defender Alejandro Catena and set up the second goal of the season for the Portuguese midfielder.

Betis won its second Copa title in 2005 but hasn’t lifted any major trophy since then. The team has been revamped since the arrival of veteran Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini in 2020. It sits third in the Spanish league and advanced to the knockout rounds of the Europa League.

Rayo is playing in the Copa semifinals for the first time since 1982 and is trying to reach the final for the first time in its history.

The modest Madrid club entered the semifinals boasting one of the best home records in Spanish soccer, with nine wins and only one loss from 12 matches at Vallecas Stadium. It had lost only once in its last 10 home matches against Betis in all competitions. Rayo eliminated Betis in the round of 32 of the Copa in 2020.

Colombia veteran striker Radamel Falcao came off the bench for Rayo in the 62nd but could not spark the team to a better result.

Betis had won four in a row — outscoring opponents 14-2 — before losing to Villarreal 2-0 at home in the league on Sunday, when some regular starters were rested.

The team was punished with the closure of a section of its Benito Villamarín Stadium after a piece of plastic thrown by a fan hit a Sevilla player in the head during the Copa match last month. The game was suspended and resumed a day later behind closed doors.

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