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Jan 29, 2014

Atletico, Barca through to Copa last 4

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone thanked the effort his players put in as they advanced past Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey.

Atletico Madrid will play cross-town rival Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey semi-finals after coming from behind for a 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday, sending the visitors through 3-1 on aggregate.

Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring in the Copa Del Rey rout of Levante.
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring in the Copa Del Rey rout of Levante.

Meanwhile, Alexis Sanchez scored twice to help Barcelona rout Levante 5-1 at home and advance 9-2 over two legs. The Catalan club will play either Real Sociedad or third-tier Racing Santander next.

Athletic have yet to be beaten in 12 games at their new San Mames Stadium, and they appeared set to turn around their 1-0 first-leg loss after Aritz Aduriz scored in the 42nd minute.

But as steady rain continued to fall, defending champion Atletico resisted Bilbao's push until Raul Garcia beat goalkeeper Iago Herrerin on a second try in the 54th.

Diego Costa scored on the break with four minutes to play to seal a rematch of last year's final, when Atletico ended a 14-year winless run against Madrid by winning 2-1 in extra time.

"At halftime we talked about being a team made of men," Garcia said. "We had to step up when things were at their worst, and that's what happened."

At Camp Nou, Andres Iniesta returned after missing four games for Barcelona. Adriano, Carles Puyol, and Cesc Fabregas added to Alexis's double after Levante went ahead through Loukas Vyntra's header that hit Barcelona's Sergio Roberto before going in.

The marquee matchup of the quarter-final round between the defending champions and Bilbao, a 23-time winner, lived up to its billing as the two sides offered a flowing, up-tempo match from start to finish.

And given the chances created by both sides, the final score would have been larger if it hadn't been for the superb performances by both goalkeepers.

"That's because we played against a great team,'' Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. "Football is passion and here (in Bilbao) you can experience football in its purest form. It's incredible how the team feeds off the atmosphere.''

Diego Costa had the first opportunity 30 seconds into the game, but keeper Iago Herrerin denied him one-on-one.

The visitors lost left back Filipe Luis to a leg injury in the 12th, but didn't miss him until the final minutes of the first half when the intense contest swung in Bilbao's favor.

After Bilbao's Mikel Rico and Atletico's Garcia had both sent shots inches from the post, Aduriz rose above Diego Godin to head Mikel Balenziaga's cross off the turf and into the net.

Bilbao pressed to extend its lead with the overall score now level at 1-1, and Atletico goalie Thibaut Courtois had to turn away another Aduriz header and Rico's volley before the respite of halftime.

After he had stopped Diego Costa again, Herrerin used a reflex save to deflect Garcia's shot, but Garcia was not to be denied seconds later when he whipped in Cristian Rodriguez's cross with a similar left-footed volley.

Diego Costa finally bettered Herrerin when he had plenty of time and space to size him up and round him before scoring.

The semifinals start next week.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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