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The incomparable thrills and spills of the Copa del Rey

Third in LaLiga, into the last 16 of the Europa League, Copa del Rey finalists. Real Betis are enjoying a memorable season, but Rayo Vallecano pushed them all the way last night with a fine performance. It was an evening with an unforgettable finale, the type of which you only get in the Copa del Rey. Sitting back on their first-leg lead, Betis were reserved and indecisive, while Rayo played with real purpose and focus, a team with nothing to lose. They stopped Betis’ playmakers, William Carvalho and Sergio Canales, and controlled the game - but were unable to find that cutting edge. The home fans inside the Estadio Benito Villamarín were left to look nervously at their watches.

Iglesias sends Betis into final in frantic finish

Suddenly, the blue-touch paper was lit. With time running out, on came Bebé for Rayo, and the first thing he did was hit a long-range free-kick that deflected off the wall and out for a corner. With his second touch, he delivered the corner, which led to a cheap foul given away by Willian José, almost exactly where the first free-kick had been. And again it was Bebé who stepped up, this time firing an unstoppable effort into the top corner, giving Betis keeper Claudio Bravo no chance. However, as the clock ticked over into stoppage time and Rayo got ready for a deserved extra 30 minutes, Joaquín found Canales in the box, before the loose ball fell to Borja Iglesias to tap home and win the tie.

Borja Iglesias (right) scores from close range to send Real Betis into the Copa del Rey final.
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Borja Iglesias (right) scores from close range to send Real Betis into the Copa del Rey final.Toni RodriguezDIARIO AS

It was an extraordinary ending; the type of football you only see in the Copa. You have to feel sorry for Rayo, albeit you also can’t say the outcome of this semi-final is unfair. This year’s cup campaign has confirmed Rayo, and their coach Andoni Iraola, as the revelation of the season. One hopes they don’t fade away now. As for Betis, and their boss Manuel Pellegrini, this final is their chance to turn a great season into a historic one. Valencia-Real Betis is a hugely attractive showdown. Instead of Real Madrid or Barcelona, who’ve got used to winning all the silverware, it’s two members of LaLiga’s middle class, who've benefited from the change in format. The Copa is a wonderful competition.