First division - day 31
The top three sides all won at home to keep up the close fight for the league title. Real Madrid stay top after beating a poor Zaragoza 3-1, a game which they controlled from start to finish. The star of the match was their veteran captain Fernando Hierro, who scored the second hat-trick of his career and was given a standing ovation by fans when substituted near the end. Hierro opened the scoring with a quarter hour gone, forcing the ball over the line from Zidane's corner, and added a second from the penalty spot after Chainho handled in the area soon after the break. Morientes had hit a post earlier on and Raúl had a goal disallowed for offside, but Zaragoza pulled one back when Milosevic beat the offside trap to shoot past César. However Hierro finished things off ten minutes from the end to keep up his side's push for their second title in a row. Zaragoza drop to next to bottom having gone five games without a win, and must now be one of the favourites for relegation.
A last minute goal from Baraja gave Valencia a narrow 2-1 win over Osasuna to keep them running neck and neck with Madrid at the top of the table. Rafa Benítez's side had been having a bad week after losing to Rayo in the league and then being knocked out of the UEFA cup by Inter Milan, and after losing Pellegrino with a broken arm, they missed a penalty when Baraja's kick was saved by Unzué. However Osasuna were reduced to ten men in the penalty incident when Josetxo was sent off for pushing over Angulo, and after continuous pressure the hosts finally managed to beat an excellent Unzué when Juan Sánchez volleyed home with just over ten minutes to go. It seemed to be all over, but Aloisi headed an equaliser five minutes later, and with the fans whistling at their own players, Baraja came from behind to head home the winner and make up for his penalty miss. Osasuna drop to seventeenth, only one point above the bottom three.
Deportivo La Coruña also made hard work of beating bottom club Tenerife, who were leading the game with only fifteen minutes to go before losing 3-1. Lussenhoff gave the visitors a surprise lead on the half hour mark with a speculative shot shortly after Diego Tristán had headed against the bar, and keeper Julio Iglesias saved a Tristán penalty in the second half after Alexis had brought down the international striker. Things were looking grim for the Gallicians before Scaloni saved the day with two goals in five minutes, the first with a shot in off the post and the second a similar effort from outside of the area across the keeper. Makaay added a third before the game finished for a flattering result, keeping his side two points behind Madrid and Valencia in third place.
The score of the day though was at the San Mames stadium, where Celta beat the hosts Athletic Bilbao by an incredible 1-6. Both teams started the day level on 48 points in the UEFA cup spots, but there was a world of difference on the day once the goals started going in. Catanha headed the visitors into the lead and Vagner got a second with a spectacular shot with less than twenty minutes on the clock. Urzaiz pulled one back before the break and for a while it looked like the Basques could draw level. However Celta scored four times in a twenty minute period in the second half with the Bilbao defence helpless. Luccin started things off with his first goal in Spain, and Karpin got the fourth with a back-header. Then the substitutes got in on the act, Jesuli leaving Lacruz for dead before slipping the ball past Lafuente, and Maurice following up with a good shot after Jesuli's effort was blocked. The result takes Celta into the Champions League spots, above Betis on goal average, and leaves Bilbao down in seventh place.
Barcelona climbed above Bilbao into sixth place after coming from behind to defeat Valladolid 1-2 in the Nuevo Zorilla stadium. Luis García put the home side in front in the ninth minute with an angled shot across Bonano, but Kluivert levelled the scores two minutes later with a shot which hit the bar and a post before going in. Kluivert joins Catanha and Morientes at the top of the league Pichichi table with sixteen goals each. Xavi hit the bar before Cocu put the Catalans in front shortly before half time, shooting into the roof of the net from Gabri's cross. However Barcelona were reduced to ten men just before the break when their returning captain Abelardo was shown a direct red for a hard tackle from behind on Luis García. Rexach brought on Frank De Boer in the second half, and his side weathered the onslaught, with Caminero missing the best chance of the game in injury time.
Alavés kept their hopes of European football alive with a late 1-2 victory at Espanyol. The home side dominated the game early on, with the referee waving away a penalty claim when Coloccini brought down Tamudo and Kike saving well from Pacheco and Munteanu. However the keeper was stretchered off with a broken nose after an accidental clash with Pacheco and had to be replaced by Herrera a quarter of an hour in to the game. Espanyol took the lead on the stroke of half time when De Lucas got on the end of Pacheco's header, and had chances to extend their lead in the second half. However Astudillo scrambled an equaliser five minutes from the end after a Witschge free kick, and in the last minute Iván Alonso got on the end of Mara's cross to head the winner.
Real Sociedad beat relegation rivals Mallorca 0-2 to move away from the bottom spots into thirteenth place. The home side missed a couple of chances to open the scoring in the first half, in particular from Ibagaza and Luque, and ended up apying the price for their misses. Kovacevic got ahead of Roa to head the visitors into the lead from a López Rekarte cross, and a quarter of an hour he made it two after Tayfun touched on a corner. Kresic made a triple change, but Real were not going to let go of their lead, and they record their second victory in a row under caretaker manager Roberto Olabe. Mallorca drop to fifteenth, level on points with Villarreal and Osasuna and only two points above bottom side Tenerife. (24.03.02)
The city derby between Betis and Sevilla ended goalless for the second time this season. Betis were looking for a victory to take them joint top of the table with Real Madrid and Valencia, who both play on Sunday. However without the suspended Denilson they were short on ideas, and were held by a Sevilla side who played with ten men for most of the second half after Torrado got himself sent off after picking up a second yellow card. The home side had the best chances, with Notario saving from new under-21 international Dani before the break, and Capi, himself called up for the first time by Camacho for the full Spanish side, hitting the bar with the goal at his mercy. Even so Sevilla could have stolen the three points in injury time when Olivera burst free with only Prats to beat, but he rushed his shot and put the ball wide. His side though take another important point to keep them out of the relegation battle, and they stay safely down in twelfth place.
Málaga and Rayo Vallecano also drew 0-0, a result which did neither side much good in achieving their respective objectives. Rayo were looking for their first away win of the season to take them out of the relegation zone, but although they have now gone three games without defeat, they are still in the bottom three with all Sunday's games still to come. They defended well though, and Málaga didn't get a real chance at goal until Corino cleared a shot from Darío Silva with Etxeberria beaten late in the first half. Darío was playing his first game as an EU player having been given his Spanish passport earlier in the week, and he set up Dely Valdés after the break for him to beat the keeper only to see his goal ruled out by referee Pérez Burrull. Rayo's best chances fell to Peragón and Bolic just before half time and Vivar Dorado later on, but each time Contreras was there to save and keep his side in touch with the European spots. The Madrid side ended the day though with ten men after Hernández was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Las Palmas came from a goal down to record a vital 3-2 victory against relegation rivals Villarreal. Both teams started the day in a group of eight sides separated by two points at the bottom, with Villarreal having not won in six games and Las Palmas with only one win in the last ten. The visitors struck early, Víctor converting a third minute penalty after a foul by Schurrer in the area. However the Canary Islanders came back with two goals in a minute around the half hour mark, the first a Jorge penalty after Pizzi brought down Jayo, and the second a powerful shot from Samways from outside of the area. Five minutes later Villarreal were level again, Unai heading home a corner, and they seemed to be on top when Schurrer received his marching orders after picking up a second booking with just over an hour on the clock. However with ten men the hosts came back, and substitute Pablo Lago scored the winner with a quarter of an hour to go to leave Villarreal manager Víctor Muñoz back in the firing line. (23.03.02)