Espanyol stun Barcelona, Real Madrid thrash Betis

February 22nd, 2009 - 2:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Madrid, Feb 22 (DPA) Barcelona suffered their second league defeat of the season in the Spanish Liga when they went down 1-2 at home to lowly Espanyol .
At the same time Saturday, Real Madrid were scoring their ninth straight win by thrashing hapless Betis 6-1, with all the goals coming in a breathless first half.

These results bring the Liga race back to life because second-place Real are now just seven points behind Barca, who held a 12-point lead two weeks ago.

“Tonight’s games really brings the league back to life,” said Real striker Gonzalo Higuain, who opened the scoring against Betis.

Ex-Barca Ivan de la Pena was the star for Espanyol scoring two goals after Barcelona were down to 10 men with Seydou Keita sent off for an ugly foul in the 39th minute as his victim Eric Abidal limped off with a torn muscle in his right thigh and will be out for up to two months.

With Barca down to 10, Pena silenced the Camp Nou in the 51st minute by heading in a centre from Nene to make it 1-0.

And just five minutes later, the elegant Pena doubled the lead with a classy chip, after Barca keeper Victor Valdes had gifted him the ball.

In the 63rd minute Yaya Toure pulled a goal back for Barca with a left-foot drive, after Espanyol had failed to clear a free-kick.

But coach Josep Guardiola then annoyed the Camp Nou - practically for the first time this season - by taking off league top scorer Samuel Eto’o.

Espanyol had surprisingly few problems in holding out for their first win in almost four months. It was Barca’s first defeat in 23 games, since they lost 1-0 away to Numancia in August.

Real, meanwhile, were putting Betis to the sword with a tremendous first-half display. Higuain gave the hosts the lead, then Klaas Jan Huntelaar - who has not been registered for the Champions League - took centre stage with two handsome goals.

Ricardo Oliveira pulled a goal back for Betis, but then Raul scored two quickfire goals to restore Real’s superiority. Sergio Ramos made it 6-1 just before the interval - the first time that the whites had scored six in the first half since 1956.

Huntelaar almost completed his hat-trick late on. By then, Real had eased up, their thoughts now on Wednesday’s Champions League clash against Liverpool.

Later Saturday, third-placed Sevilla scored a late 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid, with a goal four minutes from time from young Jesus Navas.

The late win leaves Sevilla nine points behind Real Madrid but three points ahead of fourth-placed Villarreal, who came from behind to beat Sporting Gijon 2-1 at home earlier on Saturday, with goals from veterans Robert Pires and Joan Capdevila.

Villarreal are now four points ahead of Valencia and five ahead of sixth-placed Atletico.

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