First division - day 19
With the three teams above them all losing, Valencia were the big winners of the weekend. Their 1-3 victory over Betis takes them up four places to third, just behind Deportivo on goal average. Having sold Carew to Fulham a couple of days ago and with Sánchez and Mista injured, Benítez played with Ilie and Salva up front, and the pair combined for Salva to head home Ilie's cross with only eight minutes gone. Ilie added a farcical second a few minutes later, and when Luis Fernández was sent off for the home side four minutes before half time it appeared to be all over. However Capi pulled one back almost immediately, and Valencia were also left with ten men in the second half when Salva picked up a second yellow card. In the end though Baraja finished things off from the penalty spot near the end.
Athletic Bilbao missed out on the chance to move up to second place with their third home defeat of the season. They lost 1-2 in the San Mames stadium to struggling Tenerife, who move out of the relegation spots as a result. The visitors scored twice in a three minute period in the second half, the first from a spectacular free kick from Bicho Fuertes, his first goal for the side. Bruno Marioni added the second thanks to an awful mix up between Lafuente and Larrazábal, and the home crowd started to protest. However Julen Guerrero, back in the starting line up for the first time in two months, pulled one back near the end to set up an exciting finish.
Barcelona closed up on the European spots with a comfortable 2-0 victory against Zaragoza. Rexach left Rochemback and Geovanni out of the squad after they turned up late from their vacations, and also replaced keeper Bonano with Reina. Kluivert opened the scoring on the stroke of half time after good work by Sergi, and then set up a second for Saviola in the second half. Only the woodwork and a good performance by keeper Láinez saved the visitors from a bigger defeat, and they are now only three points away from the drop zone. Barcelona move up to seventh, only three points behind second placed Deportivo.
With a game in hand, Alavés started the day with a chance to finish as winter champions for the first time in their history. However they fell to a 0-2 defeat against local rivals Osasuna, and drop down the table to eighth. After a strong start they faded quickly, and the visitors were unlucky not to go in at the break in front. It did not take them long though after the restart to make amends, Palacios heading Fernando's cross past a shaky Herrera. Under-21 international Jusué made it two a few minutes later from a corner to move his side clear of the relegation spots and take their minds off the false bank guarantee scandal, which had been headline news all week.
Valladolid bounced back after their thrashing by Real Sociedad last week to beat Mallorca 2-1. The absence of defenders meant that Caminero had to play in the back four, and Mallorca were also missing key players, in particular Eto'o who had already joined the Cameroon squad for the forthcoming Africa cup. Fernando put the home side ahead in the fifth minute after a brilliant run by Tote, and and Luis García struck a second after the interval, also from Tote's pass. Mallorca though had been playing well, and only a superb performance by keeper Ricardo kept his side in front. Luque did get one past him later on, and although Kresic brought on Ibagaza, making his first appearance after a long injury, they were unable to get the goal they needed. With Osasuna and Tenerife winning, the island side drop back in to the relegation zone.
Málaga moved back away from the danger zone with a 2-0 victory over Espanyol. With Musampa suspended Joaquín Peiró gave Portugal's Duda his first start, and he made his claim for a more regular place with the opening goal from a long free kick. The second goal came from the penalty spot near the end, Darío Silva converting the kick after Zárate was brought down. The game was spoilt by a strong wind blowing through Málaga's unfinished stadium, and Espanyol hardly managed a shot at goal all match. Their midfielder Toni Velamazán was carried off midway through the first half, apparently with a knee ligament injury, and could be out for some time. Both teams end the weekend in the lower half of the table. (06.01.02)
Real Madrid virtually secured the honorary title of winter champions (awarded to the team heading the table with half the season gone) with a convincing 3-1 victory over second placed Deportivo de La Coruña. The game started at a frantic pace, with three goals in the first nine minutes. Morientes gave the home side the lead after Raúl set him up in the sixth minute, but straight from the kick off Pavón tripped Víctor on the edge of the area and referee Undiano Mallenco awarded a penalty which Makaay converted. A minute later Zidane restored the lead though with a brilliant individualist goal, leaving three defenders for dead before blasting the ball over Molina. The Depor keeper made a couple of first class saves and Morientes had a goal disallowed before Raúl finally extended Madrid's lead midway through the second half.
Celta lost out on the chance to move temporarily to the top of the table after drawing 2-2 with Rayo Vallecano early on Saturday evening. It had been a hard week for Rayo with masked gunmen robbing their offices on Friday, but they put that behind them and went ahead with a headed goal from Bolo in the first half. Catanha levelled the scores after the break though, putting him level with Urzaiz at the top of the league's goalscorers chart, and when Edu scored with a spectacular strike minutes later it looked as if their winning run would continue. However a lapse of concentration let in Bolic for the equaliser in injury time. Rayo are still bottom though, five points adrift of the rest.
The game between Villarreal and Sevilla also took place on Saturday evening in order for the players to be with their families for the traditional present giving three kings day on Sunday. But it was the home side who gave out the presents early to their visitors, allowing them to take away the three points with a 0-2 victory. Casquero opened the scoring in the first half with a set-piece free kick, and Moisés grabbed the second right at the end with Villarreal desperately coming forward. Both sides ended with ten men, with Amor getting his marching orders late in the first half for the hosts and Moisés picking up a second yellow in injury time for thier opponents. New signing Pizzi made his debut for Villarreal in the second half, but they still fell to their third defeat in a row.
Real Sociedad saved a point in the last game of the day at Las Palmas to climb temporarily at least out of the relegation spots. Real had the better of the first half and the home team dominated the second, but neither side was able to break the deadlock and the game ended without goals. Referee González Vázquez turned down a penalty appeal for a foul on Las Palmas midfielder Josico in the second half, and Khokhlov hit the post for the San Sebastian side late on. Real's new keeper Sander Westerveld kept his second clean sheet in a row since joining, but striker Kovacevic was unable to make his debut as he had to return home for personal reasons. (05.01.02)