By Andy Hall
Samuel Eto'o struck his 18th Primera División goal of the season to give FC Barcelona a 1-0 win at CA Osasuna and extend their lead to eight points over Real Madrid CF, held by Valencia CF.
On a drizzly night in Pamplona, Frank Rijkaard's side controlled the game throughout and could have taken an early lead when Andrés Iniesta was clean through on goal. His delicate chip beat Ricardo Sanzol but clipped the top of the bar. Eto'o provided his usual clinical finishing on 40 minutes when he got on the end of a threaded ball from Deco and fired low inside the post.
Barça dominated the second half as they had the first but could not add to their tally, Ronaldinho's 64th-minute free-kick sailed over the bar while Iniesta missed two chances when he was put through down the right. Rijkaard said: "This is an important victory and one that we achieved thanks to the mentality of and sacrifice from the whole team."
Madrid, whose game kicked off after Barça's, dropped points in an evenly-balanced game at the Mestalla. Pablo Aimar opened the scoring for the reigning champions after 14 minutes, firing past the outstretched arm of Iker Casillas and inside the post.
Madrid levelled in style 15 minutes later when Guti's threaded pass found Ronaldo, who shimmied around Santiago Cañizares, then Carlos Marchena, before tapping in. Both Casillas and Cañizares made crucial second-half saves as Valencia in particular went for victory, Aimar seeing a looping header bounce agonisingly off the bar.
Valencia are now level with fourth-placed Villarreal CF, who meet CD Numancia in Sunday's fixture programme, but Sevilla FC, in third but like the coastal pair on 43 points, missed the chance to move ahead as they lost 3-0 at Club Atlético de Madrid. Salva Ballesta opened the floodgates with a diving header on 15 minutes and then Fernando Torres tapped in and Antonio López scored with an overhead kick before the interval.
The home side then had to ride out the last 15 minutes with 10 men as Salva was handed a second booking. Atlético are eighth, while Sevilla could slip from the top three if Villarreal, RCD Espanyol or local rivals Real Betis Balompié pick up points on Sunday.
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