First division, week 25

Athletic Bilbao held on to fifth spot, but lost ground on Barcelona after drawing 1-1 with Betis. Both goals came early in the second half, with the visitors taking the lead after Joaquín got free down the right and crossed in for Benjamín to bend a shot into the top corner of the net. Ezquerro equalised five minutes later, steering a header down past Aranzubia from Del Horno's centre, but Prats and his defence kept out the Basque forwards after that to extend their unbeaten run to eight games. The Andalucians ended the weekend in seventh place, only a point outside of the UEFA cup positions.

Villarreal dropped out of the top six after falling to a 4-1 defeat at Zaragoza. Benito Floro's side found themselves behind in the third minute when Ponzio caught out Reina with a long shot, and Cani made it two soon afterwards after Dani's shot hit the post. The visitors were left with ten men when Quique Alvarez picked up a second booking, and when Dani got his first goal for his new club before the break, the game appeared to be over. Riquelme got one back from the penalty spot after the restart though, and numbers were evened up when Cuartero also got his marching orders for protesting. But David Villa finished things off with a spectacular volley to take his side out of the relegation spots.

Osasuna continued their slide down the table after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Mallorca, and they have now not won at home since the first week of December. The visitors went in front in the sixth minute when Delibasic intercepted a poor headed back pass by Cruchaga to volley the ball past Sanzol, but Aloisi equalised ten minutes later following a set piece Puñal free kick. Both sides had their chances after that, but in the end they had to settle for a point each.

A second half goal from Bodipo was enough to give Racing Santander a 1-0 victory over Valladolid, taking them back up to midtable. Both sides came into the game with three defeats in a row, but there was little action until the second half when Nafti hit the bar with a long shot. Half time substitute Bodipo went close before he finally picked up a long ball from Neru to score, but the visitors could have saved a point when Ricardo saved from Oscar and Cardetti headed wide later on.

Albacete beat local rivals Real Murcia 1-0 in their relegation battle, but it was still not enough to stop them from dropping down into the bottom three. The only goal of the game came in the eighth minute when Cuadrado turned Pacheco's off-target shot past his own keeper, leaving John Toshack's side ten points adrift of safety at the bottom of the table. The visitors can think themselves unlucky not to have saved a point though after Richi hit the post late in the first half and new signing Juárez headed against the woodwork near the end. (22.02.04).

Real Madrid moved five points clear at the top of the table after a comfortable 2-4 win over next to bottom club Espanyol. Once again there was controversy over the initial refereeing decisions, with Muñiz Fernández missing a hand ball by Salgado in the area and then awarding a dubious penalty to Raúl at the other end after he fell under a challenge from Carlos García. With Figo rested and Beckham suspended, Ronaldo stepped up to slot home the kick. Five minutes later though the referee did award a penalty to the home side which Tamudo converted, again a borderline decision after De la Peña fell over the body of Casillas. Any doubts over the result though were dissipated when Madrid scored three times in a quarter of an hour period in the second half, Roberto Carlos, Raúl Bravo and then Ronaldo beating the unfortunate Lemmens. Lopo got a late goal back, but by then it was far too late.

Madrid got assistance though from an unexpected source, arch-rivals Barcelona giving them a helping hand by beating second placed Valencia 0-1. The Catalans came in to the match full of confidence after four wins in a row, and Ronaldinho almost caught Cañizares off guard with a long free kick in the first half. Saviola had a goal disallowed for a borderline offside a few minutes later, and the home side's only real chance came when Xavi headed Baraja's effort off the line on the stroke of half time. The visitors kept up the pressure after the break and got their reward when substitute Gerard headed a corner down into the net with a quarter of an hour to go. And when Carboni was sent off for a second bookable offence soon afterwards the match was over.

Third placed Deportivo La Coruña played out a 0-0 draw at Atlético Madrid, a result which takes them to within a point of Valencia. The home side had the better of the first half, but without the suspended Fernando Torres they could not convert their chances. The Galicians could have won it though in the second half, with Diego Tristán going close on two or three occasions, but with one eye on their midweek Champions' League game with Juventus, Irureta eventually settled for a draw. Molina did have some work to do though, saving a late effort from youngster Arizmendi which could have won it for the locals.

Spain's two other Champions' League sides both lost though, partly at least because their respective managers rested key players for their European encounters. Real Sociedad were beaten 1-0 by Sevilla, who have won their last three games and who move up to within three points of the European spots as a result. Both sides had their chances but it looked as if they were heading for a scoreless draw when substitute Hornos popped up in injury time to bundle the ball past Westerveld.

Celta's revival under Radomir Antic was cut short when they were beaten 0-2 by Málaga. The turning point of the game came with a quarter of an hour on the clock when Sergio was sent off for bringing down Edgar inside the penalty area. Salva stepped up to convert the spot kick, and although Celta threw everything forward as the game wore on, Diego Alonso added a second for the visitors in the last minute. (21.02.04)

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