Bilbao deals Barça a stunning blow as league chasers slip up

28th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

Espanyol and Atlético lose to lowly rivals, Barcelona suffers late equaliser.

28 January 2008

MADRID - With only a few teams positioned to contest league leaders Real Madrid in the race for the Liga title, neither fifth-placed Espanyol nor fourth-placed Atlético de Madrid were able to gain ground on their rivals, falling to Betis and Mallorca - two teams facing relegation - respectively on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Real's most formidable contender for the title, Barcelona, tied with Bilbao's Athletic at San Mamés on Sunday, dealing a potentially critical blow to the Catalans' title aspirations.

An early goal by youngster Bojan gave Barça the lead, but Athletic's Fernando Llorente equalised with 10 minutes left to play for the tie.

Real, playing Villarreal at press time, had the opportunity last night to stretch its seven-point lead over its Catalan rival even further.

An extra-time goal by Edu gave Betis the 2-1 victory at Montjuic, adding to Espanyol's recent poor spell. The team that, until a few weeks ago, had not tasted defeat in 14 matches, has now lost four games in a row (three in the league, one in the King's Cup) and will stay at 36 points, while leader Real Madrid had the opportunity to move up to 53.

Espanyol fowards Luis García and Valdo came out firing at the starting whistle on Sunday, with Ernesto Valverde's offence managing five shots on goal in game's first eight minutes. Perhaps missing its most decisive scorer, "the forward that doesn't miss," Raúl Tamudo, they couldn't turn their best efforts into a goal. (Although Tamudo's replacement, 22-year old Jonathon Soriano, shined while trying).

Despite the initial excitement, the home team burned its engines on an initial surge and never again appeared comfortable in front of its home crowd. It was Betis midfielder Alberto Rivera who silenced them in the injury time of the first half, scoring on a pass from Arzu.

For Espanyol, Luis García tied the game early in the second half, but after several dangerous opportunities, Betis once again found the net for the win, this time in the added minutes of the second half.

If Betis' three points were much needed to lift it from the relegation zone, this also holds true for Mallorca, which pulled out its own important victory over an apathetic Atlético.

In minute 21 of the game, Venezuelan Juan Arango took advantage of Atlético defensive errors, rebounding in the game's first goal after a penalty area scuffle.

Through and through, an Allético that should have been aggressively defending its Champions League position, was lethargic and heartless - a sentiment that seemed to emanate from coach Javier Aguirre, who didn't call on the team's main offensive threat Kun Agüero until minute 58 of play.

Although the young Argentine's entry served to give the Mallorca defence the jitters, they did not relent in the final half hour, helped on by the expulsion of José Antonio Reyes, who played one of his poorest games of the season.

Even without Frédéric Kanouté and Seydou Keita, the Liga's token underperformer Sevilla pulled a much-needed 2-1 win from its hat against Osasuna, which, as opposed to Mallorca and Betis, is closer to descent. Like its cross-town rivals Betis, Sevilla eked out the result on an extra-time goal, a penalty by Liga goal-leader, Luis Fabiano.

Other results: Racing 2 - 2 Zaragoza; Murcia 3- 2 Levante; Valencia 0- 1 Almería; Deportivo 3 - 1 Valladolid; Recreativo 1- 3 Getafe

[Copyright EL PAÍS / KELLY RAMUNDO 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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