The four remaining UEFA Champions League challengers suffered contrasting fortunes in domestic football at the weekend ahead of the forthcoming semi-final first legs.
Real Madrid CF and Manchester United FC both won to enhance their prospects of successfully defending their respective Primera División and FA Premiership crowns, while FC Barcelona, Madrid's opponents, and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, more damagingly, both lost by a solitary goal.
Close in Germany
Leverkusen, who visit Old Trafford on Wednesday, had a disastrous day at the BayArena on Saturday as FC Bayern München and BV Borussia Dortmund, their chief 1. Bundesliga rivals, saw their title hopes boosted by Klaus Toppmöller's side's 2-1 loss at home to SV Werder Bremen.
Bayern defeated Hertha BSC Berlin 3-0 but remained third after second-placed Dortmund, UEFA Cup finalists, moved to within two points of Leverkusen thanks to Marcio Amoroso's late strike in a 2-1 success against 1. FC Köln.
Madrid returned to the summit in Spain briefly on Saturday with a spectacular 4-1 defeat of CD Tenerife at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium, Guti's two goals adding to strikes by Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo. However Valencia CF usurped their position with yesterday's 1-0 defeat of RC Deportivo La Coruña.
The unfortunate Aldo Duscher, vilified after his tackle on David Beckham, scored the 68th-minute own goal which moves the Mestalla stadium outfit a point ahead of Madrid with three games remaining. Third-placed Deportivo are four points behind Madrid and the same clear of RC Celta de Vigo, 2-1 conquerors of Barcelona.
Three different leaders
The English league leadership changed hands three times at the weekend as title protagonists United, Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC all won. Sir Alex Ferguson's side handed Chelsea FC a lesson in counterattacking football with a 3-0 victory in London on Saturday, but Michael Owen's double strike helped Liverpool to a 2-0 win over Derby County FC, who were subsequently relegated, and pole position.
Arsenal FC, the title favourites, were pushed all the way by relegation-threatened Ipswich Town FC but won 2-0 thanks to Fredrik Ljungberg's double strike and are again in the ascendancy. The headlines belonged to former England captain Alan Shearer, however, as he became the first player to score 200 Premiership goals as Newcastle United FC beat Charlton Athletic FC 3-0 at St James' Park to virtually guarantee a place in next season's Champions League.
Going to the wire
The French title race is also going to the wire after the three Le Championnat challengers all failed to record crucial victories. Olympique Lyonnais blew the chance to take top spot on Saturday after being held 0-0 by Montpellier Hérault SC as leaders RC Lens were defeated 3-1 by SC Bastia. Khalilou Fadiga missed a late penalty as third-placed AJ Auxerre were held to a 3-3 draw by CS Sedan-Ardennes. They trail Lyon by two points and Lens by three, with two matches to play each.
Exciting end in Italy
Juventus FC's hopes of winning their first Serie A title since 1998 were boosted when they beat Piacenza FC 1-0 and rivals Internazionale FC and AS Roma were both held to draws. Pavel Nedved's 85th-minute goal moved his side above Roma, who drew 0-0 with Milan AC, into second place. With two games remaining, Inter, held 2-2 by AC Chievo Verona, lead the way with 66 points but Juventus are now just a single point behind. Roma are a further point adrift in third.
Olympiakos Piraeus FC wrested the title initiative from AEK Athens after edging a thrilling capital derby 4-3 at the OAKA Spiros Louis stadium. The victory leaves the two clubs tied on 55 points - with Panathinaikos FC third following their 3-1 defeat of Xanthi FC - going into the last match of the season.
In the Netherlands, AFC Ajax, champions 27 times, are four points away from their first title in four years, while Sporting Clube de Portugal missed out on an opportunity to wrest the 1. Liga title from champions Boavista FC, who were surprisingly beaten 2-1 at home by Varzim SC. Sporting needed a Mario Jardel penalty six minutes into added time to draw the Lisbon derby 1-1 with SL Benfica.
Elsewhere, FC Tirol Innsbruck secured their third straight Austrian Bundesliga title with a 1-0 win at SK Rapid Wien, while the battle for the second Champions League place remains intense after Grazer AK and Sk Sturm Graz drew 1-1. KRC Genk closed in on the Belgian title as they moved three points clear at the top with two matches left to play and Galatasaray SK remain on course to lift their 15th Turkish title after beating MTE Ankaragücü 2-0 yesterday.
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