First division, week 27
Barcelona moved up to within a point of third placed Deportivo after beating Mallorca 3-2, their ninth win in a row in all competitions. Luis García opened the scoring for the Catalans in the third minute, and makeshift centre forward Luis Enrique made it two on the quarter hour mark after Miki collided with his own defender and dropped the ball at the feet of Ronaldinho. Van Bronckhorst and Xavi hit the woodwork either side of the break as Barça kept up the pressure, and Luis García got his second of the night around the hour mark. The game seemed to be coming to a quiet end, but with two minutes to go Eto'o pulled one back and then set up Delibasic in injury time for him to score a second and set the nerves of the local fans on edge.
The game between Athletic Bilbao and Valladolid should have been a home banker, with the locals holding fifth spot after a run of seven games without defeat and the visitors having lost their last five matches. But it was quite the opposite, with Fernando Vázquez's side running out 1-4 winners for the second time in three years at the San Mamés stadium. The Basques were caught out three times in just over half an hour with plays from the right wing, Losada and then Oscar González heading home crosses from Fernando Sales, and Jesús getting on the end of a Sousa free kick. Lsada added a fourth a quarter of an hour from the end after a mistake by Aranzubia, and Athletic got a late consolation goal from Julen Guerrero, his first in over a year.
Athletic stay in fifth place, just ahead of Atlético Madrid who were being beaten by bottom club Real Murcia right up to the last kick of the match, when Nano made it 1-1 with a free kick. Visiting manager John Toshack drafted in three youngsters to his defence after a string of poor results, and although Nikolaidis and Sergi both hit the woodwork, Atleti were unable to get the goal they were looking for. And then ten minutes in to the second half referee Carmona Méndez awarded a penalty to Murcia after Simeone fouled Luis García from behind, and Luis García himself stepped up to put his side in front. The locals were left with ten men when Jorge got sent off for insulting a linesman later on, but just when Murcia looked to be in line for only their third win of the season, Nano struck his last gasp equaliser.
Sevilla took advantage of the slips by the teams above them to move to within three points of the UEFA spots after a 2-0 win over Villarreal. With Darío Silva injured and Antoñito suspended, Caparrós gave another chance to Uruguayan striker Hornos. But it was half time substitute Carlos who took the opportunity to shine, scoring both goals to make it thirteen points from the last five games for the Andalucians. The ex Mallorca striker turned in a cross from Daniel Alves and then added a superb individualist goal to stake his claim for a more regular place in the side.
Sevilla also moved a point ahead of city rivals Betis, who were beaten 1-0 by an Albacete side who have won their last three matches by the same result. The only goal came from Pacheco around the half hour mark, and Fabiano and Pacheco could have increased the lead had they been more on target. Alfonso headed against the bar for the visitors before the break, but otherwise they hardly troubled Almunia, who has not let a goal in for four games.
Albacete are now five points clear of the relegation zone, level with three other sides including Zaragoza, who beat Málaga 1-0 to make it nine points from their last three games. Referee Rubinos Pérez turned down three or four penalty claims early on, but did produce two yellow cards for Duda before half time to leave the visitors with ten men for the second half. The goal did not come though until twenty minutes from the end, when David Villa picked up a pass from Yordi to beat Arnau. (07.03.04)
A depleted Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Racing Santander on Saturday evening, but still stay six points clear at the top of the table. With Salgado and Pavón suspended, Raúl injured and several players still suffering from a midweek virus, they were pegged back from the start, and Casillas had to be at his best to save from Javi Guerrero and Benayoun early on. But Madrid were always dangerous on the breakaway, and shortly after Ronaldo had a goal disallowed for a narrow offside, Solari opened the scoring with a low shot across Ricardo after Zidane played the ball back. Only a couple of minutes later though Morán's free kick fell free in the area, and Benayoun was there to score the equaliser. Neither side made much impression after the break, and the only incident of note was the hamstring injury to Ronaldo, which may keep him out for the next two weeks or so,
Valencia consolidated second spot with a flattering 3-0 win over championship rivals Deportivo. Rafa Benítez's side were awarded two penalties in the first twenty minutes of the game by referee Esquinas Torres, the first hotly disputed after Romero brought down Vicente on the edge of the area. Molina saved Baraja's kick, but a few minutes later Mauro Silva brought down Aimar from behind as he lined up to score, and after the Depor captain was shown the red card, Vicente stepped up to score. It was to be Vicente's night, the Spanish international winger hitting the bar twice either side of half time. And with the visitors fighting back and the game already in injury time, Vicente got his second of the night and then set up substitute Juan Sánchez for a third.
A late goal from Kovacevic saved a point for Real Sociedad in their local derby match at Osasuna. The Serbian striker charged down a clearance by Sanzol three minutes from the end and watched the rebound bounce back into the net to give his side a boost for the upcoming Champions League game. Webó had given the Navarrans the lead in the first half with a well taken goal, and only some excellent saves by Alberto stopped the locals from scoring more. But just when it appeared that Osasuna were heading for their first home win in three months, Real struck to make it 1-1 and send the fans home disappointed.
Espanyol's recent good form continued, and they kept alive their hopes of survival with a 1-5 win over direct relegation rivals Celta. Tamudo gave the Catalans the lead on the half hour mark with a solo effort, and Hadji made it two on the stroke of half time after a mistake by keeper Pinto. Tamudo got his second of the night from the penalty spot after the break when Sergio charged into him, and the unfortunate Sergio turned a long free kick past his own keeper later on. With their opponents defeated Vignal turned Maxi's free kick past Pinto for a fifth, and Edu's last minute goal was scant consolation. Espanyol are now only a point behind their rivals in the table. (06.03.04)