First division, day 19
Third placed Deportivo La Coruña missed out on the chance to close the gap on Real Madrid when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Racing Santander. The visitors almost caught their opponents out in the first half when Ayoze and then Javi Guerrero both hit the post with Molina beaten, but Luque put the Galicians in front with a shot in off the bar after a short free kick just before the break. Racing got their just rewards though when Javi Guerrero ran on to a ball out of midfield to chip Molina ten minutes from the end.
Atlético Madrid moved back up to fourth spot after a 3-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao. All the goals came in the last twenty minutes of the game, with an inspired Ibagaza setting up the first for Fernando Torres to head his free kick in off the bar. Torres added a second from the penalty spot after Musampa was fouled by Luis Prieto, and Paunovic came on to replace Torres for the last few minutes and headed a thitrd goal from Aguilera's cross. The result could have been different though if Yeste had not missed a first half penalty for the visitors.
Villarreal ended the first half of the season in fifth spot after beating Valladolid 3-1. José Marí put Benito Floro's side ahead late in the first half with a header after Riquelme's effort was blocked, but Makukula levelled the scores after the break. However Julio César got himself sent off for the visitors, and super-sub Víctor came on to lead his side to victory once again, scoring a second goal himself and then setting up Roger for a third near the end.
Last week's fourth placed side Osasuna dropped down two spots after drawing 1-1 at home to Sevilla. It was a hard fought battle between the two sides, with some aggressive tackling and very little creative football. However the two goals were both works of art, the first coming from the boot of Baptista who latched on to a loose ball on the edge of the area to volley a shot into the roof of the net, and the second goal came late on when Pablo García curled a free kick over the defensive wall past Esteban.
Barcelona beat Zaragoza 3-0 to move back up to seventh spot in the league table. Rijkaard left Rüstü on the bench to be able to bring in Saviola, and the young striker obliged by heading his side ahead from Iniesta's cross midway through the first half. Ronaldinho added a second from the penalty spot on the stroke of half time, and Iniesta found Xavi with another cross after the break for him to make it three and leave Zaragoza down in the relegation zone. Barça are expected to sign Edgar Davids on loan from Juventus tomorrow.
Barcelona's neighbours Espanyol beat Real Murcia 0-1 to move off the bottom of the table above their opponents. The only goal came early on when Maxi hooked the ball past Bonano, and the home side were already up against it when Acciari was sent off for a second bookable offence with three-quarters of the game still remaining. The visitors could have increased their lead in the second half when Maxi and Tamudo hit the woodwork, and the Murcia fans called for the head of manager Joaquín Peiró at the end of the game.
Betis started their match against Málaga in the drop zone, but they moved back out again after a convincing 3-0 win over their Andalucian neighbours. Víctor Fernández drafted in Alfonso up front, and the veteran striker reminded the fans of old times when he carved through the defence before hitting a deflected shot into the back of the net in the seventh minute. Joaquín added a second after Alfonso and Tote combined to set him up after the break, and the third goal came a few minutes later when Romero turned the ball into his own net after Calatayud blocked Joaquín's shot. (11.01.04)
Valencia are the winter champions after beating Albacete 0-1 to move ahead of Real Madrid at the midway point in the season. Rafa Benítez's side took the honorary title thanks to a controversial Jorge López penalty when Aimar was tripped by Peña in the eighth minute, referee Moreno Delgado turning down the home side's claims that the foul was committed just outside of the penalty area. César Ferrando's team tried their best to come back, with Unai testing Cañizares before half time and Deporte and new signing Fabiano shooting wide after the break. But only a couple of first class saves from Almunia prevented substitute Angulo from giving Valencia a bigger victory in the end.
Real Madrid dropped to second place after they were beaten 1-0 by Real Sociedad, the Basque side's second win in a row after a run of nine league games without a victory. The only goal of the game came on the hour mark when Iker Casillas failed to get a clean punch on Nihat's long cross, only succeeding in leaving the ball to Karpin for him to fire it back into the net. Earlier in the game Raúl had missed a couple of chances either side of half time, and Nihat had headed just over the bar in Real's most dangerous attack. Kovacevic could have made it two near the end when Salgado stopped his header on the line, but the locals had done enough to keep them out of the bottom three for another week.
Celta came back from behind twice to beat Mallorca 2-4 and save Lotina's job for another week at least. In the absence of the suspended Eto'o, Bruggink had twice put the Islanders ahead, the first time with a deflected shot and then from the penalty spot, but José Ignacio and then Jesuli levelled the scores. Nené was sent off for the locals shortly before Jesuli's goal, and Luccin put the visitors ahead for the first time with five minutes to go with a second penalty. Mallorca had nothing left, and Milosevic wrapped things up with a fourth goal in injury time after Jandro set him up. The result, combined with that of Real Sociedad, leaves Betis down in the bottom three pending their game on Sunday. (10.01.04)