Barcelona put one foot in the Spanish Cup final with a brace from Lionel Messi sealing a thumping 5-0 semi-final first leg win over Almeria at Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Three goals in the opening quarter hour put Barcelona in total command and now Barcelona, who have won the cup a record 25 times, appear a shoe-in for the final, barring a remarkable second leg comeback from Almeria.
Real Madrid hope to meet their arch rivals in the final and hold the upper hand in the other semi-final with Karim Benzema's goal sealing a 1-0 first leg win at Sevilla on Wednesday.
Barcelona took the lead after just nine minutes with goalkeeper Esteban Suarez at fault as Argentine Messi's tame shot sneaked in. Just 60 seconds later David Villa came in from the left flank and opened up his body to bend a right-footed shot past second choice goalkeeper Suarez.
On the quarter hour mark Messi netted again curling a left-footed shot into the bottom corner and Almeria must have sensed a repeat of their 8-0 league mauling by Barcelona in late October. Spanish international Pedro Rodriguez headed in a corner on the half hour mark to make it 4-0 and Almeria just wanted the half-time whistle to come.
Barcelona were hungry for more goals, hitting the post and forcing several saves from the overworked Suarez before Seydou Keita scored a fifth in the final minute after a great pass from Messi.
Real have a much slenderer lead over Sevilla in the other semi-final although the 1-0 victory was the perfect present for Madrid boss Jose Mourinho on his 48th birthday. Reborn French international striker Karim Benzema scored the decisive goal on 15 minutes, dribbling past one man before cutting inside to curl a left-footed shot into the corner.
The arrival of Togo international striker Emmanuel Adebayor on loan from Manchester City has increased the pressure on Benzema, but the Frenchman has responded with winning goals in Madrid's last two matches.
Sevilla, who were furious at not being awarded a goal when the ball appeared to cross the line, now have an uphill task to reach the final for the second successive season.
Sevilla players had their faces decorated with war paint in a television advert for the cup semi-final and Real star Cristiano Ronaldo said it just served to motivate Madrid even more. "We could have scored more than one goal but it's fine," said Ronaldo. "Now we are at home (for the second leg) and Sevilla players can continue painting their faces because that motivates us a lot."
Madrid were on top for most of the first half but on the chime of half-time Sevilla were convinced they had equalised. Luis Fabiano, who scored a hat-trick against Levante at the weekend, went around Iker Casillas and fired the ball goal bound, but Raul Albiol got back to clear off the goal line although all the Sevilla players were adamant the ball had crossed the line. The referee and his assistant did not agree and Sevilla players went off complaining at the half-time interval.
Madrid were the better side after the break with Xabi Alonso going close and the visitors missed a glorious chance to get a second away goal on 79 minutes when Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil were both denied by some last ditch defending. The match finished with Real goalkeeper Casillas holding his head after appearing to get struck by an object from the crowd as tempers boiled over.
Real now have the edge in the tie as they bid to win the competition for the first time since 1993, while holders Sevilla will need to come back and score in the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.