Atlético de Madrid put themselves in a commanding position in the Copa del Rey quarter-final after beating Betis by two goals to nil in tonight's first leg in the capital. An impressive first half performance and an inspired Diego Costa, who played a role in both goals on the night, to serve the visiting Verdiblancos a body blow from which they never quite recovered. Next week's decider at the Villamarín remains wide open but Diego Simeone's men will be relieved that they will go into that game with any margin at all - they had goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to thank for a series of saves which denied Betis from grabbing an all-important away goal.
Atlético have been imposing when playing at their own stadium this term - and again, they came hurtling out of the traps from kick-off. The opening minutes were spent applying maximum pressure on the visitors, suffocating their every move and ready to pounce on the smallest mistake. They did this against opponents who have a similar reputation for playing an intense, high octane brand of football. Just minutes into the game, Simeone was spotted pestering a ball boy to get the ball back in play at once as if his team had not a second to lose - that confirmed Atleti's gameplan of grabbing an early goal to unsettle Pepe Mel's charges. In the first four minutes, the Argentinean coach's team had two corners while Betis had yet to venture out of their half.
The opener didn't take too long to arrive. On 10 minutes, Diego Costa jinked his way inside the Betis area before laying off a pass for Raúl García to curl in an inviting ball into the six yard box - it was met by Falcao whose powerful header had the back of the net bulging.
Betis keeper Casto couldn't be faulted for such a perfectly executed goal and nor was he to blame when Atleti doubled their lead on 23 minutes. Diego Costa mesmerised the Betis defence on the dead ball line with a flurry of stopovers then tried to get the ball over to the far post. It took a deflection and landed at the feet of Filipe Luis, who slammed the ball low inside the post to make it 2-0.
Betis were largely on the back foot for most of the first half but did manage to create the odd chance - it was a miracle that their best opportunity failed to enter. In a congested area, they bombarded Courtois' goal but the keeper responded, thwarting each attempt with a reflex save. Soon after, Rubén Castro was just inches from connecting with a cross whipped in from the left wing.
The Rojiblanco keeper's heroics continued in the second half - this time, it was Jorge Molina who was denied after a counter attack mounted by Joel Campbell.
The game lost its earlier intensity after Juanfran limped off with a suspected hamstring injury. Atleti rode out the final minutes to preserve their lead - one which they will be grateful for in the next week's decider in Seville.