First division, day 28
Deportivo La Coruña moved up to second place in the table after defeating Real Sociedad 2-1. The visitors took the lead with a quarter of an hour on the clock, Nihat pulling down López Rekarte's long ball and rounding Molina to score. Depor came back though, and substitute Capdevila latched on to a short free kick just before half time to equalise. Almost immediately referee López Nieto awarded a dubious penalty to Real when Gurrutxaga stumbled under Scaloni's challenge, but Kovacevic struck his kick against the crossbar. It was to prove a costly miss, and with seven minutes to go Fran scored the winner, his right foot shot deflecting off Gurrutxaga and entering the net. It was enough to give them the three points, taking them above their opponents on goal difference. Both are still six points behind leaders Real Madrid though.
It was another low scoring weekend though, with the other five games on Sunday evening only produced four goals between them. Athletic Bilbao beat Atlético Madrid 1-0 thanks to a late Ezquerro goal. The big news for the Basque side was the return of Gurpegui after the footballing authorities decided to allow him to play pending his drug hearing, but the man who did the damage was Yeste, who set up the goal with a brilliant run less than a minute after coming on as substitute. Atlético ended the game with ten men after Contra was sent off after picking up a second yellow card, and Atlético ended the weekend out of the top six.
Sevilla also missed out on the chance to move in to the UEFA spots after they were beaten 1-0 by Racing Santander. The local fans organised a protest against their controversial president Dmitri Piterman by showing giant red cards to him before the game, and he threatened to pull the club out of the league before he was calmed down by his own directors. The players responded though with an important victory which came when Javi Guerrero converted a penalty shortly before half time after Alfaro had handled in the area.
Málaga were missing their twin strikers Dely Valdés and Darío Silva, but they were still able to put together an important 0-1 win at Osasuna which takes them up to mid-table and leaves their opponents on the verge of the relegation zone. In their absence it was left to Uruguayan international Gato Romero to hit the winner with a shot from the edge of the area in the second half.
Osasuna stay just ahead of Basque rivals Alavés, who were held to a 0-0 draw by Mallorca. Both sides noted the absence of their most creative players, Tomic and Ilie for the home side and Ibagaza for the visitors, and keepers Dutruel and Leo Franco had little work throughout the evening. Alavés stay in the bottom three, having now gone six games without a win.
Recreativo Huelva moved off the bottom of the table for the first time in four months after defeating a poor Valladolid 0-1. The home side are desperately in need of someone to score goals, and Moré decided to play ex Barcelona midfielder Ciric up front in the absence of better options. They were outplayed by their opponents though, and Raúl Molina gave the Andalucians victory midway through the first half after Viqueira put him through. (06.04.03)
Real Madrid beat city rivals Rayo Vallecano 3-1 to extend their lead at the top of the table to six points pending Sunday's game between Deportivo and Real Sociedad. It was not an easy win though, and Del Bosque's side trailed right up until the last five minutes of the game, when late substitutes Portillo and Morientes made the difference. Luis Cembranos gave the visitors a surprise lead in the ninth minute when his free kick bounced past everyone and in to the net. Missing their injured French internationals Zidane and Makelele, Madrid were unable to reply until the manager finally brought on birthday boy Morientes for a disappointing Ronaldo with five minutes to go. A minute later he had levelled the scores, heading a long ball from Roberto Carlos over keeper Segura from the edge of the area for his first league goal of the season. Then in the last minute of normal time Portillo got on the end of a high cross from Solari to head his side in front. It was a remarkable recovery, and to top it all Morientes got his second of the night three minutes later after Figo put him through to leave Rayo further down in the relegation zone.
It was not a good night for the Champions League sides, the long lay off helping their opponents but leaving the top clubs with tired players after gruelling trips on international duty overseas. Rafa Benítez left his three Spanish internationals on the bench and paid the price, his Valencia side falling to a 2-0 defeat at Betis. The Andalucians took the lead ten minutes before the break when Arzu found Fernando with a pass over the top of the defence for him to beat Cañizares, and the visitors were left with ten men on the stroke of half time when Ayala was sent off for elbowing Dani in the face. The young striker appeared to be seriously hurt, being stretchered off in a neck brace, but he made a miraculous recovery and took the field in the second half. Arzu added a spectacular second goal after Joaquín set him up, and Valencia ended the game with nine men after substitute Baraja was also sent off after picking up a yellow card for a foul on Benjamín and then getting another, presumably for insulting the referee immediately afterwards. Betis move back into the top six pending Sunday's games.
Barcelona were also beaten 2-0 by Villarreal, their first defeat since Radomir Antic took over twelve games ago. It was a lively game, with both keepers making important saves to keep the score decent throughout the match. Ex Barcelona keeper Reina in particular made two vital stops for the home side from Riquelme and Saviola before the break, although otherwise Villarreal were on top, with Xavi clearing off the line from De Nigris just before the interval. The Mexican striker was in the action much of the time, and forced a penalty in the second half when Sorín brought him down in the area. Jorge López stepped up to score, and the home side could have extended their lead when De Nigris and Jorge lópez both hit the woodwork. Sorín was sent off for a second bookable offence though, and in the third minute of injury time Calleja scored a second penalty when Rochemback slid into Belletti.
Celta moved up to within two points of Valencia in fifth place after drawing 0-0 at Espanyol. Team captain Mostovoi had two chances to put his side ahead in the first half, the first a header wide when unmarked in front of goal and the second a shot against the foot of the post. The Catalans had their opportunities too though, with Roger firing a shot against the outside of the upright and Cavallero saving well from Tamudo close to half time. The action kept up after the break, with the visitors' new signing Mido heading against the crossbar and Espanyol substitute Milosevic shooting over the bar twice near the end. But both sides will be relatively happy with a point, which keeps Celta in line for another season in Europe and helps Javier Clemente's side to edge further away from the drop zone. (05.04.03)