First division, week 29

Valencia closed the gap on leaders Real Madrid to one point after thrashing Mallorca 5-1 on Sunday evening. The man who did the damage was Mista, who opened the scoring just before the break with a header from a Curro Torres cross and scored two more late in the second half to complete his hat-trick. Baraja and Albelda got goals in between as Rafa Benítez's side ran amok, the first touching in Vicente's free kick and the second with a chip from the edge of the area, and Eto'o got a late consolation for the visitors with a penalty near the end.

A last minute free kick from Ronaldinho gave Barcelona a 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad, extending their winning record in the league to nine games. The Brazilian star was celebrating his 24th birthday, and followed in the footsteps of Fernando Torres the day before with an excellent performance which could have earned him two or three goals before he finally beat Alberto. Nihat hit the bar at the other end with an earlier free kick, but otherwise Barça were on top and stay five points behind Valencia.

Osasuna stay a point behind the UEFA cup spots after beating Villarreal 2-1. Both of their goals were scored by their opponents though, Reina deflecting the ball into the net after Aloisi's first half header came back off the post, and Quique Alvarez chesting Antonio López's cross past his own keeper trying to clear. Battaglia was sent off for the visitors in between the two goals, and Riquelme got one back late on from the penalty spot after Josetxo fouled José Marí.

Málaga moved up to eighth spot after winning their local derby game at Sevilla 0-1, their fifth victory in six games. The only goal came from an ex Sevilla player Salva, who beat Arnau from the penalty spot a quarter of an hour from the end after Javi Navarro brought down Insúa. Sevilla ended the weekend in tenth position, level on points with their city rivals Betis and two behind their opponents.

An extraordinary game at Racing Santander, where the home side drew 4-4 with Celta. Referee Megia Dávila was at the forefront of proceedings, awarding four penalties and sending off Regueiro before half time and Velasco in the second half. Cristian Alvarez scored two penalties for the Cantabrians, both of which had to be retaken, and Javi Guerrero got the other two goals for the locals. Milosevic and Mostovoi got a brace each for Radomir Antic's side, and Milosevic missed a last minute penalty which would have won it for them.

Celta stay third from bottom, four points behind Mallorca and a point ahead of Espanyol, who drew 1-1 against cup winners Zaragoza. The Catalans were hoping to take advantage of the fatigue of their opponents after Wednesday night's marathon match, but they found themselves behind when David Villa headed over Lemmens in the first half. Fredson struck an impressive equaliser on the half hour mark with a long free kick, but after Tamudo limped off injured they could do no more.

Albacete moved seven points clear of the drop zone with a 2-0 win over Valladolid. Aranda got the opening goal somewhat fortunately early on when his header ballooned over the keeper, but soon afterwards had to leave the field with a shoulder injury. His replacement Mikel volleyed home a second in the second half though to make it four victories from their last five games. (21.03.04)

The race for the league title was thrown open once again after Athletic Bilbao beat Real Madrid 4-2. The Basque side scored twice in the run up to half time thanks to some sloppy defending, Iván Helguera giving the ball away to Yeste for him to get the first, and Urzaiz finding space in the penalty box to head Tiko's cross past Casillas to make it two. Raúl pulled one back though only a minute after the restart, and equalised a quarter of an hour later from a Roberto Carlos cross. But Wednesday's gruelling cup final took it's toll, and the tired Madrid defenders could do nothing when Bilbao left back Del Horno stole in to head a free kick past Casillas and then cut past Helguera to score another only two minutes later. Valencia could move to within a point of the leaders if they win on Sunday.

A depleted Deportivo La Coruña side beat bottom club Real Murcia 1-0 to keep up their challenge for the top spots. Irureta rested several players for the midweek Champions' League tie in Milan, but their replacements were up to the task and recorded their first league win in five matches. The Galicians got off to a fiery start, with a goal disallowed and a long shot from Luque hitting the post in the first three minutes. But Juanmi and his young defence stood fast until four minutes before the break, when Capdevila bundled the ball in the net from close up after Víctor played on Fran's corner. Duscher crashed a long shot against the bar after the break, but Gancedo could have saved a point if his header had not gone just wide of the post later on.

Fernando Torres celebrated his 20th birthday in style, scoring the winner in Atlético Madrid's 2-1 victory over Betis to keep his side in the UEFA cup spots. Torres and his strike partner Paunovic could have scored three times in the opening two minutes if not for Betis keeper Toni Pratsf. And seven minutes after the restart Torres raced down the right wing and played the ball back for Paunovic to drive a first time shot into the bottom far corner. Víctor Fernández brought on Capi for an off-form Tote, and two minutes later the substitute slipped the ball through for Joaquín to beat Aragoneses and level the scores. Their joy only lasted another minute though before Paunovic played a return ball into the path of Torres for him to run on and beat Prats to restore the lead. (20.03.04)

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