First division, day 26
Real Madrid beat Betis 3-1 in the last match on Wednesday night to close the gap on Barcelona to six points. Michael Owen opened the scoring early on from Solari's cross, and Casillas kept out efforts from Edu and Benjamín a few minutes later. Four minutes before the break referee Iturralde González controversially awarded an indirect free kick to Madrid inside the penalty area for a supposed back pass by Luis Fernández to Doblas, and Beckham rolled the ball to Roberto Carlos for him to blast it home at a reported 154 Kph. The home side were struck a blow when Casillas limped off after the break, and five minutes later Edu beat his replacement César to narrow the gap. Almost immediately though Iván Helguera restored the two goal lead following a corner, and that was how it stayed to the end.
Sevilla and Valencia cancelled each other out in an exciting 2-2 draw, a result which keeps the Andalusians in fourth spot, a point and a place ahead of their rivals. Jesuli opened the scoring with a spectacular volley five minutes before the break, but David Navarro made it all square from Aimar's free kick before the half time whistle. Aimar gve the visitors the lead after the restart, but Baptista saved a point from the penalty spot after Navarro handled in the area. Sevilla were awarded a second penalty near the end which Baptista fired over the bar, and Xisco had a goal disallowed in the dying minutes at the other end for a foul on a defender.
Villarreal leapfrogged above both of them up to third place though after coming from behind to beat Mallorca 2-1. Héctor Cúper's side took the lead on the quarter hour mark when Javi Venta turned Luis García's cross past his own keeper, but Figueroa equalised in the second half, his first league goal for his new club. And with seven minutes to go Diego Forlán got on the end of Cazorla's cross to turn the ball in from close range and give his side the victory. It was a bad result for the Balearic Islanders, who are now seven points away from safety.
The top seven opened up a five point gap over eighth placed Atlético Madrid after they lost 2-1 at Racing Santander. César Ferrando's side took the lead in the twelfth minute from the penalty spot after Fernando Torres was pulled down by Pablo Casar, the young striker converting the kick himself. Regueiro equalised before the half time thanks to a mistake by the defence, but Atlético should have gone back in front when Salva and Gronkjaer rattled the woodwork either side of half time. Aganzo struck the winner soon afterwards though after Anderson Silva set him up to take his side further away from the drop zone.
Deportivo La Coruña failed to keep up the momentum after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Getafe, and they ended the day in ninth spot. The home side had the better of the match, but the Galicians took the lead shortly before half time after Diego Tristán and Valerón worked a quick passing move which Tristán himself finished off. Gabi saved a point for his side though with a fierce shot which Munúa got a hand to but couldn't stop following a short free kick midway through the second half.
Athletic Bilbao also lost ground on the leaders after they were beaten 1-0 by Málaga, their second defeat in a row after they were knocked out of the UEFA cup at the weekend. The only goal of the match came in the second minute when Juan Rodríguez ran on to Miguel Angel's through ball to round Aranzubia and score, and the Andalusians held on after that for a fourth victory in a row which takes them to within a point of their opponents.
Real Sociedad are just two points behind them though after a 2-1 win over Zaragoza. The visitors went in front on the half hour mark when Zapater ran on to Savio's cross to head past Riesgo, but Karpin equalised from the penalty spot on the stroke of half time when referee Ramírez Domínguez ruled rather harshly that Milito had handled deliberately in the area. Víctor Muñoz's side were left with ten men after the restart when Zapater was shown a second yellow card, and the Basque side took advantage to win the match thanks to a well struck Barkero free kick.
Osasuna halted their slide down the table thanks to a 1-1 draw at Albacete, although they have yet to win a match in 2005. There was little action up until the second half, when Morales opened the scoring for the visitors from close up after Valbuena had tipped a previous header on to the bar. But Pacheco levelled the scores from the penalty spot eight minutes from the end after Cuéllar brought down Rubén Castro to keep their hopes of survival alive.
There was a similar result at Levante, where bottom club Numancia made it three games now without defeat. The visitors opened the scoring in the twentieth minute when Graff latched on to a deflected cross to volley the ball past Mora, but Ettien got ahead of Juanma to equalise shortly before the break. Bernd Schuster's side had several chances to win the match in the second half, including an effort by Sergio García against the bar, but their luck was out. (02.03.05)
A surprise in the first game of the midweek round of matches, with leaders Barcelona being held to a 0-0 draw by city rivals Espanyol, the first point the "Periquitos" have taken from the Nou Camp in twenty years. The star of the night was no doubt visiting keeper Kameni, who started the match tipping a shot from his fellow countryman Eto'o away for a corner with less than a minute on the clock. There were few opportunities for either side for the rest of the first half, but after Rijkaard replaced Maxi López and Gerard with Iniesta and Belletti at the break, the home side bucked up their ideas. However Kameni made a spectacular save from Iniesta early in the second half, and after his side were left with ten men when Jarque was sent off for a high tackle on Márquez, the Camerooni keeper and his defence stood firm until the final whistle. It was a valuable point, which takes Lotina's side back up to third spot pending Wednesday's games. (01.03.05)