First Division - Day 23

Real Madrid 1 - Racing Santander 0

Real Madrid: Casillas; Michel Salgado, Hierro, Karanka, Roberto Carlos; Iván Helguera, Makelele; Figo, Guti (Munitis 74'), Solari (Celades 80'); Raúl. 4-2-3-1.
Racing: Ceballos; Mellberg, Ramis, Arzeno, Juanma; Julio Alvarez, Colsa (Espina 76'), Ismael, Amavisca; Regueiro (Magallanes 80'), Mazzoni. 4-4-2.

Team changes: Madrid: Figo, Solari for Munitis, McManaman / Racing: Colsa for Espina.

1-0. 46. Raúl. After Ceballos dropped Figo's free kick at his feet in front of goal.

Real Madrid kept up their four point lead at the top of the first division with a close run victory over a Racing Santander side who do not deserve to be at the bottom of the pack. Racing came in to the game fresh from a 4-0 victory over Barcelona in the league, and were applauded on to the park by the grateful 65,000 crowd. There were a few old faces revisiting friends here, with Racing's Amavisca, Ramis, Jaime, Morán, Magallanes and on-loan youngster Julio Alvarez all having played for Madrid, and Munitis signing for the capital side from Racing in the summer. Del Bosque was missing the injured Morientes and McManaman, with Solari coming in for a rare start in preference to Munitis on the left of midfield and Figo returning after his one match ban. C team youngster Rubén González was called up as cover for the defence for the first time.

The only goal of the game came from a goalkeeping error just after half time, Ceballos dropping the ball inexplicably at Raúl's feet one yard from the goal line after Figo's free kick was headed up by a defender. The Racing players surrounded referee Daudén Ibáñez claiming a foul, but he correctly waved them away, television pictures later showing that Raúl had not interfered with play, even though Ceballos was probably worrying about his presence when he made the mistake. It was an unfortunate incident for the keeper, who otherwise had a good game, saving well from Solari in the first half and making several stops after his mistake. Madrid dominated for most of the game, with Figo almost catching the keeper off his line in the first half with a long shot which just went over the bar and Guti seeing his header hit both posts before bouncing out. At the other end, Casillas saved from Mazzoni and Daudén Ibáñez missed a clear hand ball by Hierro in the penalty area.

The entry of Magallanes with ten minutes to go coincided with Racing's best moments, and he immediately set up another substitute Espina in front of goal. However the midfielder missed his shot with the goal gaping in front of him. Julio Alvarez and Amavisca also came close to scoring against their old club before the final whistle went, and Madrid were relieved at the end to pick up the three points to maintain their lead. Racing stay next to bottom, above Osasuna on goal average, but the victories of Numancia and Real Sociedad opens up a four point gap between the bottom two and the rest. Madrid go on to play Lazio midweek in the Champions League before taking on second placed Deportivo in a match which could wrap up the league title if they win. Today they had the luck of champions. Can they keep it up?