Barcelona five points behind Real Madrid in Liga

February 17th, 2008 - 11:53 am ICT by admin  

Madrid, Feb 17 (DPA) Barcelona are now just five points behind Spanish leaders Real Madrid after a controversial late 2-1 win away to Zaragoza in the Primera Liga football tournament. Earlier Saturday, Real surprisingly lost 1-2 to lowly Betis. The results leave Real with 56 points from 24 games and Barca with 51 points.

Frank Rijkaard’s team won thanks to a hotly disputed 83rd minute penalty converted by super sub Ronaldinho, who had only been on the pitch for nine minutes.

Barca were given the penalty for an alleged handball by Zaragoza defender Juanfran Garcia, who had naively controlled a long ball between his arm and chest.

Barca did not deserve to win, after another indifferent display on the road.

They went ahead, against the run of play, in the 34th minute. Deco played a diagonal ball into the box for Thierry Henry, who controlled with his chest - and maybe with his arm as well - and scored with a deft low shot.

Zaragoza should have equalized in the 43rd minute, when they were given a penalty for a foul by Rafa Marquez on the lively Ricardo Oliveira.

But Diego Milito surprisingly put the penalty over the crossbar, and Barca were able to go back to the locker rooms with an undeserved first-half lead.

Zaragoza continued to dominate after the interval, and Oliveira made it 1-1 in the 53rd minute with a powerful low drive from a tight angle out on the right.

Defender Sergio Fernandez should have put the hosts ahead in the 66th minute but looked slow and clumsy in front of an open goal. Barca had again been reprieved. Then came the controversial late penalty - and the winning goal, which keeps La Liga alive.

Barca had run out onto the Zaragoza pitch knowing that injury-hit Real had suffered a shock defeat against troubled Betis.

Real went into an early lead down in Seville but were beaten by a Betis side that took advantage of their few chances, then defended with order and composure.

Royston Drenthe, making a rare start, shot the leaders ahead after just six minutes, after the Betis defence had failed to clear its lines following an incursion by Arjen Robben down the right.

Shortly afterwards, with Betis against the ropes, Robben should have made it 2-0, but instead blasted over the bar.

Betis took advantage of their reprieve to equalize in the 32nd minute, when Brazilian forward Edu headed in a centre from the left from Mariano Pavone.

To the delight of the capacity crowd in the Estadio Ruiz de Lopera, an identical move just four minutes later gave Betis an unlikely 2-1 lead.

This time the provider from the left was the livewire Edu, and the headed finish was provided by Mark Gonzalez, taking advantage of more sloppy marking by Marcelo.

Now that they were ahead, Betis predictably handed the initiative to Real in the second half, preferring to defend in depth and play on the break.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy - whom coach Bernd Schuster was planning to rest for the Champions League clash away to AS Roma - came off the bench and hit the Betis post.

Defender Sergio Ramos stayed upfield to help Van Nistelrooy in a frenetic finale but the best chances fell to the hosts, with Gonzalez and Edu close to scoring a third goal.

The surprising win takes Betis up to eight from bottom, now with 28 points.

In another match in the day, Sevilla romped to a handsome 4-2 win away to stuttering Espanyol. Sevilla won with goals from league top scorer Luis Fabiano, Federic Kanoute, Christian Poulsen and teenager Diego Capel. Luis Garcia and Ferran Corominas hit back for Espanyol, but the hosts were crippled by the sending-off of defender Pablo Zabalaeta.

Espanyol - who have struggled without injured captain Raul Tamudo - stay in fifth place, on 39 points. Above them are Atletico Madrid, on 41 and third-placed Villarreal, on 42.

The impressive win takes Sevilla up to sixth, on 36 points, and puts them in good heart for the Champions League clash away to Fenerbahce.

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