First division, day 17

Real Madrid ended the year in top spot after coming from behind to beat Mallorca 1-3. Missing the injured David Beckham, Carlos Queiroz's side fell behind when a lapse of concentration from Pavón allowed the ball through to Eto'o for him to set up Correa to score. But Raúl headed the equaliser on the stroke of half time from Figo's cross, and Ronaldo did the rest, carving through four or five defenders to put his side in front after the break and then winning a penalty which Figo converted. The result keeps Madrid two points ahead of Valencia.

Deportivo La Coruña kept up the pressure on the top two with a 2-1 win over Espanyol. Irureta's side went behind at first though when Jordi Cruyff picked up a pass from Alex to shoot low past Molina. But Luque made it all square from a set piece free kick just before the break, and then had a hand in the winner when Torricelli deflected his cross past keeper Toni in the second half. Depor stay six points behind the leaders in third place, and Espanyol find themselves nine points away from safety at the bottom of the division.

Osasuna held on to fourth place despite a 0-1 defeat at the hands of Zaragoza. The turning point of the match came ten minutes before half time following a corner, when Moha stopped Alvaro's header on the line with his arm. The midfielder was shown the red card, and David Villa scored from the resulting penalty. Lainez tipped a Josetxo header onto the bar later on to save the three points (and his manager's job), and the locals ended with nine men when Cruchaga picked up a second booking right at the end.

The battle for the last Champions' League spot is hotting up, and Villarreal took advantage of Osasuna's loss to move level with them on points after defeating Betis 1-3. All the action came in the last quarter hour of the game, with substitute Víctor setting up Sonny Anderson for the opener. The locals were left with ten men after Lembo picked up a second booking, but even so Juanito equalised with a header from Joaquín's corner. But Víctor appeared again to set up Guayre to score twice in the last four minutes and leave Víctor Fernández's job hanging by a thread.

Barcelona missed out on the opportunity to move up level with Osasuna after they were held to a 1-1 draw by struggling Celta. Miguel Angel Lotina's side took the lead against the run of play when Rüstü failed to control Puyol's back pass, losing the ball to Milosevic who left Jesuli with the easy task of shooting in to an empty net. The Catalans had two goals disallowed as they tried everything to come back, but it was not until the seventieth minute when Cocu scrambled the ball in following a corner. The point keeps Celta two points above the bottom three.

A goalkeeping error too at Murcia, where local keeper Juanmi let the ball through his hands in the last minute to allow Málaga substitute Canabal to make it 1-2 to the Andalucians. The visitors had taken the lead on the quarter hour mark when Insúa's free kick took a deflection off the defensive wall to wrong-foot Juanmi, but David Karanka equalised a few minutes later after the defence failed to clear a long cross. Málaga move up to seventh, just a point outside the Champions League spots, and Murcia drop further down into the relegation zone.

Athletic Bilbao drop out of the European spots after they drew 1-1 at Albacete. Aranda returned to the home side after missing the last match and celebrated with the opening goal, a shot from outside of the area into the top corner of the net. But Ezquerro volleyed home a spectacular equaliser a few minutes later from Urzaiz's weighted pass to save a point. Albacete ended the weekend in a comfortable fourteenth place, five points clear of the relegation zone. (21.12.03)

Valencia moved back to the top of the table pending Sunday's games with a narrow 1-0 win over Sevilla. It was a match with few scoring opportunities, and neither keeper was really troubled in the first half. Mista forced a good save out of Esteban though on the hour mark, and from the resulting corner he went one better, heading Vicente's kick into the roof of the net. Caparrós threw on all his fire power, but to no avail, and Xisco almost increased the lead when he hooked a shot over the bar right at the end. Valencia move two points ahead of Real Madrid, who play Mallorca tomorrow.

Racing Santander shrugged off their failure from the penalty shoot-out in their midweek cup match at Eibar to save a point at Atlético Madrid with a late spot kick. The Cantabrians had taken the lead early in the second half with a scrambled goal from Matabuena, but despite a penalty miss from Ibagaza, Atlético had turned the result around with goals from Paunovic and Musampa. Racing were awarded a penalty themselves though when Gaspar fouled Morán, and in the end it was young substitute Jonathan who had the nerve to step up and beat Juanma for the final 2-2 result.

Real Sociedad sank further down into the drop zone after they were beaten 1-3 by Valladolid, their ninth game in a row without a win. Things appeared to be picking up when Nihat connected with López Rekarte's cross to head past Bizzarri in the fifth minute. But a dangerous Makukula levelled the scores on the half hour mark, and Oscar put the visitors ahead midway through the second half on a quick breakaway. Substitute Losada finished things off near the end with an individualist goal, and Real ended with ten men after Aranzábal was sent off in injury time for a foul on the final goalscorer. (20.12.03)

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