First Division - Day 37

Real Madrid 0 - Mallorca 0

Real Madrid: César; Michel Salgado, Iván Helguera, Hierro, Roberto Carlos; Makelele, Solari (Munitis 77'); Figo, Raúl, McManaman; Guti (Morientes 61'). 4-2-3-1.
Mallorca: Leo Franco; Olaizola, Fernando Niño, Nadal, Miguel Soler; Paunovic, Engonga (Robles 72'), Marcos, Ibagaza (Paco Soler 90'); Eto'o, Luque (Losada 88'). 4-4-2.

Team changes: Madrid: Hierro, Solari, McManaman, Guti for Karanka, Flavio Conceiçao, Zidane, Munitis / Mallorca: Fernando Niño, Paunovic, Engonga for Campano, Siviero, Robles.

Goals: None.

Real Madrid's challenge for another league title fizzled out like a damp squib as they were held to a goal-less draw by a desperate Mallorca. Wednesday's epic Champions League semi-final win over arch-rivals Barcelona took its toll on the home side, with Zidane out injured and the rest of the players looking tired. However with their options still open Del Bosque went for a full strength line up, with McManaman coming in on the left wing and Solari dropping back to join Makelele in the centre of midfield. The visitors were under new management after Sergio Kresic got the boot midweek, and B team manger Tomeu Llompart was given the difficult charge of saving them from relegation in the last two matches of the season. He decided to move away from the five man defence to a more traditional 4-4-2, bringing back Fernando Niño to partner Nadal and going for experience in midfield, with Paunovic and Engonga coming in to the line up.

Four points behind Valencia in the league, Madrid needed to win and hope Rafa Benítez's side at best drew in Málaga to keep their title prospects alive. However they seemed to have given up right from the start, with nobody capable of inspiring the team in the absence of Zidane. Midway through the first half they finally created a couple of chances but Guti wasted both, shooting straight at Leo Franco after McManaman put him through and a minute later incredibly hitting the bar from a yard out with the keeper gone awol. Other than that though Mallorca overran them in the first half, and only thanks to César were they still level at the break, with Luque, Marcos, Ibagaza and Eto'o all going close.

César made the save of the night after the restart from Luque, and referee Fernández Marín pulled up Eto'o for a non existent offside with the Camerooni striker closing in on goal. Madrid had no reply, even with Morientes and Munitis on the park, and although officially nobody was allowed to know the scores from other grounds, the news which filtered though that Valencia were ahead added to the gloom of the occasion. The crowd that remained showed their disagreement at the end, whistling off their side, although the radical Ultra-Sur supporters had already left the ground much earlier in protest at the arrest of some of their members for disturbances after the ETA bombing outside the ground on Wednesday night.

Madrid now face a difficult last game next Friday night against Deportivo in Riazor, and if they lose that they will drop from second to third in the league, which means they will have to play a qualifying round of the Champions League in August. They could still avoid that if they win the Champions League final in Glasgow as the European champions go through to the league stage automatically, but they will put unwanted pressure on them for the final. So no rest for now for the boys, and after that it is straight into the World Cup warm up and on to South Korea and Japan for most of them before they can finally have that much needed break. Mallorca meanwhile were happy with their point, which was just enough to keep them out of the bottom three. A victory next week at home to Valladolid will ensure their safety and another season in the top flight.