First division, week 24

A controversial injury time penalty saved a 1-1 draw for Real Madrid in their top of the table clash with Valencia. It was in intense match, with the league's best defence winning the battle for much of the 90 minutes against the best attack (albeit missing the suspended Zidane), and on-target scoring chances were relatively few. Cañizares was called upon though to save from Salgado and Raúl in the first half when Madrid did get through, and Mista and Vicente both went close at the other end. But the visitors took the lead with a quarter of an hour to go when Ayala powered a header past Casillas from Angulo's corner, and it looked as if Rafa Benítez's side were going to finish the day on top of the table. However referee Tristante Oliva awarded a penalty in injury time when Raúl fell under a challenge from Marchena, and Figo stepped up to level the scores with virtually the last kick of the match. Valencia are the first team to take points away from the Bernabeu stadium this season, but that is little consolation for them right now.

Deportivo took advantage to close the gap on the top two with a 2-0 win over Osasuna. Irureta's side were in the driving seat right from the start, and Luque and Diego Tristán both went close before Tristán laid the ball back for Víctor to score midway through the first half. The visitors' first effort at goal was a long shot by Pablo García on the half hour mark, and Víctor made it two soon afterwards when he got on the end of Luque's long cross to beat Sanzol again. Osasuna were left with ten men early in the second half when Pablo García was sent off for a hard tackle on Valerón, and Víctor should have completed his hat-trick when he got the ball in the net only to see it ruled out for a non-existent offside.

Barcelona consolidated fourth spot after beating their closest rivals Atlético Madrid 3-1. All the goals came in the first half, with Saviola starting things off in the ninth minute when he ran on to a long clearance by Reiziger to beat Aragoneses. Nikolaidis made it all square ten minutes later when he turned Nano's cross past young keeper Jorquera, who was standing in for the suspended Víctor Valdés. But Ronaldinho restored the lead only three minutes later, working a swift passing move with Cocu and finishing off scooping the ball over the head of the advancing keeper. Luis García made it three just before the break when he headed home Saviola's cross, and they could have scored more in the second half before Davids got himself sent off for a second booking, after which Rijkaard called it a day.

An incredible match at Villarreal, where the local side ran out 6-3 winners over Racing Santander to move back up over Atlético to the UEFA spots. Belletti scored early on and Riquelme added a second from the penalty spot before Benayoun pulled one back on the half hour mark. Belletti got his second of the night before half time, lobbing the ball back over the head of Ricarod when the keeper got caught out of the area, but Cristian Alvarez narrowed the gap again from the penalty spot after the break. But José Marí and Sonny Anderson put the game out of reach before Benayoun got his second of the night and Juanma put through his own net in injury time.

There were another seven goals at the Rosaleda stadium, where Málaga put an end to their run of six defeats in a row with a 5-2 win over next to bottom Espanyol. The locals scored twice in three minutes late in the first half, Miguel Angel forcing the ball into the net following a corner and Lemmens letting a weak Manu shot roll through his hands. Lopo headed one back on the stroke of half time, but before the whistle went Málaga struck back with another goal from Juanito. Salva headed a fourth after the restart before Tamudo replied for the visitors, but Insúa made it five near the end to complete the rout.

Betis moved up to eighth in the table after beating Zaragoza 2-1, their fourth victory in a row. The visitors took the lead though in the third minute when Cani got on the end of a corner to fire a shot past Prats, and could have extended their lead later in the half. But Denilson levelled the scores with half an hour gone when he collected a rebound from his own shot and curled the ball into the top corner of Lainez's net. And five minutes later the Brazilian winger cut in from the left and chipped the ball across for Alfonso to head his side in front. Neither side could add to the score after the break, and the defeat takes Zaragoza back down into the bottom three.

Celta move further away from the drop zone though with a 0-2 win at Valladolid, their second victory in a row under Radomir Antic. Both sides cancelled each other out in a dull first half, but the Galicians took the lead in the first minute after the break, Mostovoi finding the ball at his feet after a series of rebounds and shooting low past Bizzarri. The locals tried their best, but with several players missing including their top scorer Makukula (out for the rest of the season) they were unable to find the net. Jesuli made it two near the end on a quick breakaway to hand Fernando Vázquez's side their third defeat in a row.

The other match on Sunday evening between Mallorca and Albacete ended without goals, a result which if anything favours the visitors who edge out of the relegation zone as a result. The return of Samuel Eto'o from international duty was one of six changes in Luis Aragonés's side, but they were unable to improve on a run which has seen them only win once in nine games. Delibasic and Nené came closest to scoring for the home side, with Leo Franco saving from the visitors' best effort by Pacheco before the interval. Mallorca ended the weekend only five points off the drop zone. (15.02.04)

Local rivals Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao cancelled each other out in a 1-1 draw on Saturday evening. The home side had won five of their last six games, and seemed to be on the way to another victory when Kovacevic and Xabi Alonso both hit the woodwork in the opening seven minutes. But Yeste put the visitors ahead a few minutes later with his fourth goal in consecutive games, the defence caught napping as Etxeberría's deflected cross fell kindly for the boy with the Mohican haircut. Real got the equaliser they deserved though five minutes before the break when Karpin set up Nihat for him to roll a shot past Aranzubia, and when Athletic's Gurpegui got himself sent off for a second bookable offence early in the second half the Guizpuzcoans were back on top. But they were unable to take advantage against a well ordered defence, and in the end both sides had to settle for a point.

A hat-trick including two penalties from Baptista gave Sevilla a 1-3 win over Real Murcia, a result which leaves John Toshack's side firmly anchored to the foot of the table. The game was over as a contest with only five minutes on the clock when Richi fouled Baptista in the area, and Esnaider was sent off for something he said to referee Lizondo Cortés after Baptista himself converted the spot kick. And the Brazilian star scored a second penalty a quarter of an hour from the end after Acciari tripped Daniel Alvés to give his side what looked like an unassailable lead. But numbers were evened up when Torrado picked up a second yellow card soon afterwards, and Lizondo gave a third penalty in injury time, this one to the home side which Luis García converted. Baptista completed his hat-trick though a minute later after Antoñito set him up to put the result beyond doubt. (14.02.04)

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