First division, week 23

Deportivo la Coruña kept up the pressure on the top two after a 0-2 win at Albacete. The home side had the better of the first half, and only two important saves by Molina from Aranda and Pacheco kept the scores level at the break. But the Galicians scored twice in two minutes around the hour mark, Scaloni netting the first on the follow up after Almunia could only push away a shot from Valerón, and then Diego Tristán setting up Luque for a second on a rapid breakaway. César Ferrando's side had a chance to pull one back a few minutes later when Aranda fell in the penalty area under a challenge from Héctor which cost the full back a red card, but Molina guessed right and saved Aranda's spot kick. The win keeps Depor four points behind Valencia, and condemns the Manchegans to the relegation zone.

A spectacular late goal from Ronaldinho gave Barcelona a 1-2 win over Osasuna, taking them back into the Champions League spots for the first time since early season. The Brazilian star latched onto a half-hit shot from Davids to flick the ball over his head and volley home an unstoppable shot past Sanzol and take the three points. The Catalans had taken the lead on the stroke of half time when Xavi set up Saviola, but the hosts had levelled the scores midway through the second half with a Puñal penalty after Víctor Valdés had brought down Valdo. Both sides ended the match with ten men after Luis Enrique and Alfredo were sent off after clashing in the last minute.

Athletic Bilbao spent an hour and a half in fourth place and ended the weekend in fifth after beating bottom club Real Murcia 2-1. Urzaiz started things off with a headed goal from Yeste's free kick in the twelfth minute, but John Toshack's side came back with an equaliser three minutes later, Luis García finishing off after Karanka failed to cut out a cross in from Juanma. The Basques restored the lead though from the penalty spot just before the interval after Jensen stopped an effort from Urziaz with his hand on the line, Yeste converting the kick after the Danish midfielder was given his marching orders for the third time this season.

Radomir Antic led his Celta side to a first home win since late September, the Galicians moving away from the relegation zone with a 2-1 win over Villarreal. The Serbian manager drafted new signing Ilic straight into his side, but it was another of his fellow countrymen Milosevic who did the damage, opening the scoring with a quarter of an hour gone with a header from Mostovoi's corner and adding a second only minutes after the restart. Víctor hit the woodwork twice before Sonny Anderson came on to pull a goal back later in the second half, but Benito Floro's side could not avoid their third defeat in a row which leaves them down in eighth place.

Betis moved up to within a point of Villarreal, thanks to a goal in the fourth minute of injury time from Joaquín in their 1-2 win over Racing Santander. The Andalucians found themselves behind in the sixth minute when Benjamín deflected a shot from Matabuena into his own net, but the midfielder made up for his mistake scoring the equaliser at the other end with a shot from outside of the area half an hour later. The game appeared to be heading for a draw when Joaquín picked up a pass from Arzu to beat Ricardo and give his side their third win in a row.

A last minute goal at Zaragoza too, where a David Villa penalty gave the home side a 2-1 win to end Real Sociedad's run of five wins in succession. Villa had put his side in front early on after good work from Savio, but Xabi Alonso had equalised before the break with a long shot which caught the otherwise excellent Lainez off guard. Westerveld's last minute foul on Villa allowed the young forward to hit the winner and take Víctor Muñoz's side out of the relegation spots.

Sevilla also moved away from the danger zone after a comfortable 3-0 win over Mallorca. Unlike last week, Joaquín Caparrós decided not to reserve any of his players for the midweek cup semi-final with Real Madrid, and with Baptista and Darío Silva in the side they overpowered their guests with three goals in the second half. Baptista got the first from Antonio López's cross four minutes after the restart, and Gallardo made it two after Darío Silva laid the ball on a plate for him. The best of the lot though was Martí's third goal near the end, the midfielder leaving three defenders trailing before striking a shot past Leo Franco.

Espanyol are starting to believe they can save themselves as well after they beat Valladolid 2-0, their second victory in a row. The Catalans were lucky not to fall behind in the first half, but Luis Fernández threw on Tamudo in the second half to join Raducanu, and within three minutes he had got his name on the scoresheet after a mix up between Bizzarri and Julio César left the ball at his feet. Fredson headed his first ever goal for the club from a corner two minutes later to take them to within three points of safety. (08.02.04)

The race for the league title is hotting up as the top two sides both won on Saturday evening. First placed Real Madrid made it eleven home wins in a row after beating Málaga 2-1, a game which they should have won by a bigger margin but ended up suffering in the end. The visitors had lost their last five games, but Juande Ramos's five man defence held firm until midway through the first half when Beckham found Salgado with a long pass, and the full back crossed across goal for Ronaldo to finish off. Ronaldo hit the post early in the second half, and Roberto Carlos made it two a few minutes later when he blasted a free kick past Calatayud from the edge of the area. Queiroz though decided to rest Figo and Raúl, and the Andalucians came back with a goal from substitute Luque to set up an exciting last twenty minutes.

Two hours earlier Valencia had thrown down the challenge to the leaders with a comfortable 3-0 victory over fourth placed Atlético Madrid. After early pressure from the visitors, Mista put the locals ahead following a corner with a header which went through the hands of keeper Sergio Aragoneses, who was making his league debut after being called back from Getafe. Atlético were left with ten men early in the second half when Sergi picked up a second yellow card, and Vicente made it two with a long shot from out on the left which caught Aragoneses by surprise. And Mista got a third five minutes later when he picked up a pass from Angulo and left Simeone for dead before scoring. Valencia ended the day two points behind Real Madrid, who they play next Sunday in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. (07.02.04)

News archive