First division, week 22

A last minute goal from Ronaldo gave Real Madrid a 2-3 victory over Valladolid to keep them at the top of the table. Carlos Queiroz's side found themselves two goals down at half time, both goals coming from Oscar González after crosses from the right wing. But Ronaldo deflected Zidane's shot past Bizzarri just a couple of minutes after the restart, and Figo made it all square from the penalty spot after Peña blocked the ball with his arm in the area, getting himself sent off for a second yellow card. Numbers were evened up soon afterwards when Solari was also booked for a second time by rookie referee Lizondo Cortés, but with the game looking like ending in a tie, Ronaldo picked up a pass from the left to hit a low shot past Bizzarri.

Third placed Deportivo kept in touch with the top two after a 1-0 win against a Sevilla side who were thinking more about their midweek cup semi-final with Real Madrid than on this match. Joaquín Caparros rested some of his key players and paid the price when the Galicians were awarded a penalty for a push on Diego Tristán by Pablo Alfaro on the half hour mark. Tristán converted the spot kick himself, and only some good goalkeeping by Esteban kept out Luque and Tristán later on. Even so the visitors could have saved a point had Hornos not missed a couple of chances in the first half and Baptista not put a free kick over the bar in the dying minutes. Depor stay four points behind Valencia.

Barcelona followed in Valencia's footsteps from the day before, getting their cup defeat out of their system by hammering Albacete 5-0. Missing Ronaldinho and Kluivert, Rijkaard was forced to put out a makeshift side for a match which started with his own crowd against him. But Xavi scored with a shot which deflected in off Oscar Montiel in the first half, and three goals in five minutes from Saviola, Quaresma and Davids after the restart got him off the hook once again. Luis Enrique came on to make it five shortly after Delporte was sent off for the visitors, taking the Catalans up to fifth spot in the table, only two points behind Atlético Madrid.

Villarreal drop out of the European spots after a 0-1 defeat at the hands of next to bottom club Espanyol. The locals were unable to find the route to goal against a well ordered defence, and only José Marí caused any problems for Lemmens in the first half. Reina had to save from Oscar and Maxi either side of half time, and it was only when Floro brought on Sonny Anderson and Josico that the locals tested the visiting keeper again. But with the game coming to an end, new signing Raducanu got on the end of Maxi's cross to slide the ball past Reina for the winner only minutes after coming on to make his debut. The match could have ended in tragedy when a wall collapsed as visiting supporters celebrated, but luckily nobody was seriously hurt.

The other two teams in the relegation zone met on Sunday evening, with bottom side Real Murcia running out 1-0 winners over Zaragoza to close the gap on them to four points. The only goal came ten minutes before the break when Richi took a pass from Gancedo and made himself space to strike a low shot past Lainez. Gancedo could have made it two in the second half when he headed against the post, but his side had done enough to give new manager John Toshack his first win. His opposite number Víctor Muñoz now has to rally his side in time for their midweek cup tie with Alavés.

Athletic Bilbao moved to within a point of the UEFA spots with a 1-3 win over Mallorca. Yeste started things off with a quickly taken free kick which caught Leo Franco napping in the eighteenth minute, but the home side equalised before the interval when Gurpegui deflected Bruggink's free kick into his own net. Etxeberría restored the lead though in the second half, heading in on the far post after Ezquerro headed back a cross, and Leo Franco and Lussenhoff bundled Del Horno's cross into their own net for a third five minutes from time.

Real Sociedad made it five wins in a row after they beat Racing Santander 1-0. It was not an easy victory though, and the only goal came from a controversial Karpin penalty in the second half after the referee ruled that Juanma had pushed Schürrer in the area. Juanma was sent off after picking up a second yellow card for protesting the penalty decision, and after that the visitors were unable to fight back. Real moved above their opponents to ninth place, only three points behind their neighbours and rivals Athletic (01.02.04)

Valencia bounced back from their midweek cup defeat to thrash Málaga 1-6 and move back to the top of the table pending Sunday's games. With Aimar injured, Rafa Benítez played with forwards Mista, Oliveira and Xisco all in the side, and they raced into an early two goal lead when Mista and then Oliveira found the net. Local keeper Arnau was sent off around the half hour mark for handling the ball outside of the area, and Valencia took advantage to score four more in the first twenty five minutes of the second half, with Marchena and Albelda both beating substitute keeper Calatayud, and Oliveira completing his hat-trick in between. On loan striker Salva got a late consolation for the Andalucians against his old side later on, but he could do nothing to prevent a fifth defeat in a row for his team.

A last minute strike from Nikolaidis saved a point for Atlético Madrid in their home match against Osasuna. Valdo put the visitors ahead midway through the first half after Webó set him up, and with Fernando Torres off the field injured a few minutes later, the locals were unable to find a way through a well disciplined defence. Things seemed even worse when Aguilera was sent off a quarter of an hour from the end for a second bookable offence, but Nikolaidis threw himself at a last gasp Ibagaza corner to level the scores at 1-1 and keep his side above their opponents in fourth spot.

Betis kept up their recent good run, beating Radomir Antic's Celta 1-0 to move comfortably up to mid-table. The locals had the better of the first half, with Benjamín testing Cavallero before Lembo finally got the goal ten minutes before the break, shooting in from close range after Alfonso headed on a corner. The visitors put their opponents under pressure though in the second half, and Milosevic could have saved a point if he had not missed an easy chance near the end. Celta could end the weekend back in the bottom three if results go against them on Sunday. (31.01.04)

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