First division, day 26
Valencia lose ground on the leaders after a 1-0 defeat at Athletic Bilbao, and are now five points adrift of third placed Deportivo. Even though Rafa Benítez put out a weakened side, they had the chance to take the lead from the penalty spot after Karanka fouled Baraja late in the first half, but Aranzubia dived to turn Fabio Aurelio's kick away for a corner. In the following play the Basques broke away, and Ezquerro passed the ball on for Etxeberría to shoot over Cañizares for the only goal of the match. The visitors were left with ten men after Mista picked up two yellow cards in quick succession after taking a free kick too quickly and then protesting, and they also lost substitute Kily González only two minutes after he came on after he injured his knee in a tackle with Karanka.
Fifth placed Celta moved to within four points of Valencia with a late 0-1 victory over Atlético Madrid. The only goal came three minutes from the end when defender Berizzo collected a Gustavo López pass on the edge of the area and beat Esteban with a shot into the roof of the net. The first half had been fairly even, with Mostovoi shooting just wide and Fernando Torres brushing the post on the stroke of half time. However Atlético dominated the second half, and should have wrapped things up before Berizzo's strike. The defeat puts a dampener on the club's centenary celebrations which started this week, although draws for the teams below them mean that they stay in sixth place.
The second half of the season has not been kind to Betis, and their 1-1 draw with bottom club Recreativo Huelva means that they have now only picked up four points from the last seven games. Capi gave them hope in the tenth minute, scoring from close up after Denilson and Fernando combined to set him up, but Fernando and Capi both failed to take their chances later in the half. The visitors were awarded a penalty early in the second half when Ito handled in the area, but Viqueira tried to fool Prats with a slow lob and only succeeded in hitting the bar. A few minutes later they did equalise though, Raúl Molina lifting the ball over the advancing keeper for Xisco to finish off, and the home fans whistled off their side at the end.
It was a very low scoring weekend though, the thirteen goals scored in the ten games being the lowest total for nine years. Three games ended goal-less, including the match between Valladolid and Sevilla, who stay in eighth spot. Sevilla's Notario is currently the top keeper in the country, and he made it four clean sheets in a row with another top class performance. Bizzarri too made his mark though, in particular with two saves either side of half time from Reyes, and the home side could have gone in front when Oscar González headed against the bar after the break. Referee Losantos Omar turned down a penalty appeal later on when the visitors' David brought down Fernando Sales in the area, and in the final minutes sent off Valladolid's Mustafa for a second bookable offence.
Alavés and Barcelona also drew 0-0 in a match which both needed to win, the home side to keep away from the drop zone and the visitors to keep in touch with the European spots. Barça though were unable to get a goal against a side who had let in fourteen in their last three games, although Kluivert went the nearest with a lob against the crossbar in the first half. In the end though the home side could have won it after the interval, with Rubén Navarro hitting a deflected shot against the post and Bonano making some vital saves, in particular from Navarro and Turiel. Both sides ended with ten men after Motta and Téllez were sent off in the second half. The draw leaves Mané's side down in the relegation spots, albeit level on points with three other teams.
One of those teams is Espanyol, who finally climbed out of the bottom three after beating Málaga 2-1. It was an event filled game, with visiting keeper Contreras getting himself sent off three minutes before half time after a foul on Tamudo outside of the area. Tamudo put the home side in front early in the second half after De la Peña's shot was blocked, and Manu equalised a quarter of an hour from the end after Dely Valdés put him through. Everything pointed to a draw until Romero reached out a hand to stop substitute Martín Posse's shot as it was entering the net. The Uruguayan midfielder was sent off, and Tamudo converted the kick much to the delight of the fans.
Espanyol also go above Osasuna, who were held to a 0-0 draw by Mallorca. It was as they say a game of two halves, with Mallorca on top in the first period, even though the best chance fell to Iván Rosado whose shot was saved by Leo Franco. The Pamplona side controlled the game after the break though, with referee Puentes Leira turning down a penalty appeal when Cortés appeared to handle in the area, and Alfredo missed the sitter of the season when he took the ball round the keeper and then stumbled when all he had to do was score into the empty net from a yard out. (16.03.03)
A last minute goal from Iván Helguera gave Real Madrid a narrow 0-1 win at Villarreal to keep them top of the table. The home side should have wrapped things up long before though, with Casillas saving from Palermo early on and Farinós shooting just wide. Guayre failed to take advantage of a couple of chances early in the second half, and Casillas made a double save from Palermo with a quarter of an hour to go, the second deflecting up on to the crossbar. But Madrid had had their chances too, with Raúl and Ronaldo going close in the first half and Reina having to make a full stretch save to keep out a Figo free kick after the break, and with the game coming to a close Helguera ran in to meet a cross from Miñambres and force his shot under Reina.
Real Sociedad stayed within a point of Madrid after coming from behind to beat Racing Santander 1-2. Benayoun put the home side in front with only five minutes on the clock, turning Diego Alonso's headed pass past Westerveld. However Nihat made it all square midway through the half with a free kick from some 30 yards out which he bent over the defensive wall past Lemmens. Racing had a chance to go ahead again when Jauergi brought down Banayoun on the edge of the area, referee Daudén Ibáñez having no hesitation pointing to the spot. However Ismael put his penalty kick over the bar, and only two minutes later Karpin turned in a low De Pedro free kick for the winning goal. The cantabrians ended the game with ten men after Nafti was shown a second yellow card in the final minutes.
Deportivo La Coruña bounced back from their midweek Champions League elimination at Juventus to beat lowly Rayo Vallecano 2-0. The good news for Irureta's side was the return of Molina in goal after winning his battle against cancer, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation as he took his place in the starting line up. It was a dull game though, and the Gallicians only managed to beat Segura in the first half from the penalty spot, Makaay clocking up his twentieth league goal of the season after Héctor was scythed down by Quevedo. Naybet added the second five minutes from the end after Segura had blocked a shot from Luque to keep Deportivo in third place, and sink Rayo further down into the relegation zone. (15.03.03)