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First Division - Day Nine

Barcelona won back their place at the top of the first division with a convincing 4-0 victory against Athletic Bilbao. With Kluivert suspended Dani kept his place up front, and Arnau continued in goal instead of Hesp. Déhu came into the defence for the first time this season since his injury. Luis Fernández picked his best defensive side, including Julen Guerrero who local press have dubbed 'Peter Pan'. Barcelona started strongly but Athletic held out until referee Japón Sevilla sent off defender Larrazábal for a questionable second bookable offence in the 36th minute. Two minutes later Barcelona were ahead, Cocu finally shooting into the empty net in a possible offside position after a goal-mouth scramble. Ronald de Boer substituted the injured Luis Enrique at half time, and in the second half, Rivaldo shot through a group of players on the hour for Barça's second. Three minutes later Rivaldo was replaced by Zenden, and Van Gaal also replaced Figo with Simao shortly after he had scored from the penalty spot in the 77th minute. Dani added the fourth goal in injury time. Bilbao's manager Luis Fernández refused to comment on the referee's performance after the match. Fernández has been suspended for several games for his outspoken views, and it appears that he has decided that discretion is the better part of valour. His face told a thousand stories however.

Barça move a point ahead of Rayo Vallecano, who lost 1-3 to Betis after ending the match with nine men. It had to take something like that to stop Juande Ramos's men, who have attracted a lot of interest since taking the top spot in the league for the first time in their history (Soccer-Spain has received more mail from Rayo and especially Kasey Keller fans in the last few days than all other teams combined). Ramos only made one change from last week, bringing back captain Cota in defence after a one match suspension in place of Clotet. Griguol kept midfielder Romero up front alongside Alfonso, and brought in youngster Rivas at left back in place of the suspended Luis Fernández (the other one). Rayo's lady president, Teresa Rivero, was in the director's box for the second time this season to shout on her team (and didn't she shout!). As with most matches this weekend, the match was played in wet conditions, although the pitch held up well. Referee Carmona Mendez sent off the first Rayo player, French defender Hernández, in the 35th minute for a second yellow card following a strong tackle on Denilson. Even with ten men Rayo didn't give up, and they were rewarded with a goal thirteen minutes into the second half when Luis Cembranos beat Prats from close range after a corner. Fate (or the referee) took a turn against them five minutes later however, when Alcázar was ruled to have deliberately handled when he got in the way of a hard driven cross from the right. Already on one yellow card, Carmona handed him his marching orders leaving Rayo with nine men, and to add insult to injury awarded a penalty for the action, which Alfonso scored past Keller. The two extra men made their presence felt, and Denilson broke away from his marker four minutes later to give Betis the lead. In the 72nd minute Alfonso put the result beyond doubt with his second, turning Denilson's cross towards the goal. Keller appeared to have stopped it, but Alfonso got his head to the rebound and with everyone frozen to the spot, the ball followed a slow looping parabola to bounce just over the line. Teresa Rivero treated the referee to a string of insults which made even the gatemen's ears turn red. It did not change the result however, and Rayo have to do it all again next week at Valladolid. With all teams close together on points, Betis leap up the table to eighth place after their first away points of the season and their second win in a row.

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