|First Division - Day 31|
Real Madrid 4 - Barcelona 2
Michel Salgado, Iván Helguera, Pavón, Roberto Carlos; Beckham,
Gravesen, Zidane (Celades 90'); Raúl (Solari 85'); Owen (Figo 82'),
Team changes: Madrid: Pavón, Beckham, Zidane, Raúl for Samuel, Figo, Guti, Solari / Barcelona: Puyol, Van Bronckhorst, Márquez, Iniesta for Fernando Navarro, Sylvinho, Gerard, Deco.
The race for the league title is wide open again after Real Madrid beat their arch rivals Barcelona 4-2 on Sunday evening to move six points behind them in the table. It was a thrilling match, with both sides playing open football from start to finish, and the scoreline could have been even bigger in the end. Apart from the suspended Samuel, Guti and Deco, both managers could count on a full strength side, Luxemburgo opting to leave Figo on the bench to make room for Michael Owen, and Rijkaard preferring to draft in Van Bronckhorst at left back and give Iniesta a start in Deco's position.
Zidane it was who started off the goal feast, the French midfielder diving low to head home Ronaldo's cross in the seventh minute, getting himself a nasty blow on the head at the same time as he collided with the goalpost. That set the show on the road, and either side could have scored in the following minutes, Márquez shooting wide and bringing a fingertip save out of Casillas with a header, and Roberto Carlos and Helguera going wide at the other end.
With twenty minute on the clock though Madrid went two up, an unmarked Ronaldo steering a header down past Valdés from Beckham's curling free kick, the first goal that the Brazilian striker had scored in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium since the middle of January. However eight minutes later Eto'o pulled one back when he nipped between two defenders to pick up a loose ball after Helguera had tackled Xavi on the edge of the area, poking a shot past the advancing Casillas.
After that Barça set out looking for the equaliser, Giuly in particular shooting wide twice and seeing another effort saved by Casillas, and Beckham putting in a providential tackle on Eto'o when the striker was on his way to goal. But on the stroke of half time the hosts went further ahead, Roberto Carlos outrunning his marker to cross in for Raúl to turn the ball past Valdés.
Michael Owen started to cause problems for the visiting defence after the restart, Valdés coming out of his area to clear from the England striker and Van Bronckhorst lucky not to be given a second yellow card for bringing him down. And a few minutes later Owen's England team mate Beckham chipped a long pass over the defence for him to run on and make it four.
A few minutes before the goal Giuly had wasted another opportunity to beat Casillas, and Rijkaard decided to rest him and bring on Maxi López. Almost immediately "The Tank" thought he should have had a penalty when Roberto Carlos brought him down in the area, but referee Rodríguez Santiago waved play on. Not long afterwards though Ronaldinho scored what could be an important second goal for the visitors with a well struck free kick, giving Frank Rijkaard's side the head to head advantage in case the two teams finish level on points at the end of the season.
Barça suffered a blow near the end when Eto'o was carried off with a knee injury, although in the end it wasn't quite as serious as at first thought. The excitement continued though, Valdés saving from Ronaldo and then later on from Figo, who had come on for the last few minutes, and Beckham almost catching out the keeper with a long shot. At the other end Casillas was in action to keep out Ronaldinho and an injury time header from Márquez. But finally things came to an end, Madrid the winners in one of the most entertaining "derby" matches in a long time.