First division, day 18
An exciting derby match at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Atlético Madrid getting a last second equaliser against city neighbours Real Madrid to draw 2-2 and save a point. The game got off to an electrifying start, with referee Daudén Ibáñez upsetting the local crowd by awarding a penalty to the visitors which Javi Moreno converted in the tenth minute after Roberto Carlos tripped José Marí. And then two minutes later he left Del Bosque's side with ten men after he sent off Iván Helguera for a tackle from behind on Moreno. Madrid came back though, and Figo ran through García Calvo to beat Burgos and level the scores on the half hour mark. Then just before half time García Calvo chopped down Roberto Carlos in the area, and Daudén awarded another penalty which Figo tucked away. The numbers were evened up after the break when the unfortunate García Calvo picked up a second booking, and it looked as if the hosts were heading for their seventh league win in a row when the referee gave a third penalty after Roberto Carlos was pushed over by Aguilera. But Burgos blocked Figo's kick with his face, getting himself a bloody nose into the bargain, and with the last kick of the match Albertini beat Casillas with a free kick which the keeper tipped on to the post, but which bounced back into the net off the keeper as he fell.
Deportivo La Coruña struggled against Athletic Bilbao, but in the end ran out 2-1 winners to consolidate their fourth position in the table. They had to come from behind to do so though, after Ezquerro gave the Basques the lead three minutes in to the second half with a shot from the left of goal which took a deflection off Héctor's boot. It only took them two minutes to be level though, the 40 year old Donato proving his worth with a header down past the Bilbao keeper half his age, Aranzubia, following Víctor's free kick. Makaay went close a couple of times, but in the end it took an own goal from Karanka, who deflecting Luque's corner into the net under pressure from Héctor, to win the game. The good news for Deportivo (other than the win) was the return of keeper Molina to training after being cured of cancer, and he was given a standing ovation as he took his place in the stands to watch the game.
Betis kept in touch with the top four after a 0-1 win at Racing Santander, and they stay in fifth place, two points behind Valencia and Depor. They had to wait until injury time though to steal away the three points, Joaquín heading the ball past Lemmens after defender Sietes could only touch on a Marcos Assunçao free kick. The rest of the match was dull, with both sides missing several scoring chances, and the main interest in the ground was off the field of play, where new president Dmitri Piterman took his place in the directors' box for the first time. The extrovert US businessman has already said he would like to have a hand in training the team, and on this showing it may not be long before he does so. Racing are now in sixteenth place, just two points above the drop zone.
After their successful cup win over Valladolid, Mallorca were expecting an easy game against Recreativo Huelva. It proved to be nothing of the sort though, and in the end they were lucky to save a point in a 1-1 draw, thanks in part to a controversial second half penalty. The visitors too had reached the last eight of the cup though, and their confidence was high despite their last position in the table. The home side were unable to beat an on-form Luque, and Raúl Molina put the Andalucians ahead after the break after substitute Xisco set him up. Referee Muñiz Fernández awarded a hotly disputed penalty though after his linesman told him that Galán had pulled down Novo, and Pandiani drilled his kick past the keeper to square the match and keep his side in seventh place, level on points now with sixth placed Celta. .
Valladolid bounced back from their cup defeat, and moved up into the top half of the table after a 0-1 win at Rayo Vallecano. The only goal of the game came in the ninth minute when Fernando Sales won the ball down the left wing and crossed in for Oscar to head strongly past Segura, who was playing his first match of the season after Fernando Vázquez left Etxeberría on the bench. Rayo did their best, with Bolic and Michel going close before the break, and Bolic failing to finish off after an incredible run by Michel in the second half. Michel got the ball in the net only to see it ruled out for a previous foul, and Peragón was booked for diving when he went down in the area. In the end though the points went to the visitors, and the Madrid based side stay down in the bottom three after their third home defeat in a row.
Rayo are now only a point above Espanyol, who held on to draw 0-0 at Villarreal. It was a match with very little scoring chances, with neither side really taking the initiative throughout the match. Although the locals had the better of the first half, the Catalans came closest to scoring when Soldevilla got on the end of Roger's free kick. After the break Sergio Sánchez saved well from Víctor and Aranda, but in the closing minutes they both settled for a point, which keeps Villarreal in twelfth place and takes Javier Clemente's side a little closer to salvation.
A draw too in the Basque derby between Alavés and Osasuna, this time 1-1, kept both teams above the danger zone for now. Mané's side were by far the better of the two in the first half, and they deservedly took the lead five minutes before the interval when Ilie fired a shot into the roof of the net after Sanzol had beaten out a header from Jordi Cruyff. The Romanian striker had to go off soon after the break though, and without his inspiration the home side sat back to defend their lead. A lapse of concentration by their defence two minutes from the end though let in John Aloisi to head an equaliser, and Iván Rosado went close to winning the game for the visitors in the dying seconds.
Sevilla and Málaga drew 0-0 in the Chapín stadium in Jerez on Sunday lunchtime, a result which gave both sides a point in their struggle for survival. Sevilla were serving out the third of their four match ground closure, and were looking to consolidate their recent good run, whereas the visitors were trying to put an end to their spell of eight games without a win. Although there were no goals, the first half at least was quite lively, with Notario saving twice in succession from Dely Valdés and Darío Silva and Manu hitting the bar at one end, and Contreras making breathtaking saves from Casquero and Toedtli at the other. Things quietened down after the break, but Contreras still had to be at his best to stop efforts from Toedtli and Reyes. In the end though a second scoreless draw in a row for both sides, who ended the weekend a point apart in the lower part of the table. (19.01.03)
Barcelona were plunged into another crisis after losing at home to ten man Valencia 2-4. Fans called for the heads of president Joan Gaspart and manager Louis Van Gaal after the side lost again, despite their opponents playing over half the match with a man short after visiting keeper Cañizares was sent off for a foul on Kluivert shortly before half time. Things started badly when Baraja intercepted a bad back pass by Rochemback in the thirteenth minute for him to set up Aimar for the opening goal, and it got worse when Carew headed a second midway through the first half from a corner. There was some respite when Motta ran on to Xavi's pass to pull one back before the break, but Rafa Benítez pulled everyone back in the second half, and Barça could not find the way to goal. Then in the last seven minutes Valencia scored twice through Fabio Aurelio and Rufete, and when Kluivert beat Palop in the last minute the fans didn't even cheer. A great win for the league champions and they move back up to third, but it appears there is another difficult week is ahead for the Catalans, who could end the weekend back in the bottom half of the table.
Meanwhile leaders Real Sociedad were going from strength to strength, and they are assured of top spot after defeating Celta 1-0. After two defeats in their first two games this year, visiting manager Miguel Angel Lotina put out a side without any recognised striker, looking to defend and surprise their opponents on the counterattack. For a while it worked, and it was not until late in the first half that the Basques created any real attempts at goal, Nihat cracking a shot from wide on the right against the post and then forcing Cavallero into a good save. Real finally got the goal they were looking for twenty minutes in to the second half, but they were fortunate that De Pedro's long shot was read badly by Cavallero, the ball surprisingly bouncing past him into the net. With the introduction of Catanha, the Gallicians finally started to get into the match, and they had a chance to equalise when Schürrer brought down the Hispano-Brazilian striker in the area late on. However Westerveld dived to stop Luccin's penalty kick and save the day. (18.01.03)