By Andy Hall
Giovanni van Bronckhorst snatched a dramatic last-ditch equaliser as Primera División leaders FC Barcelona were held 3-3 by fourth-placed Real Betis Balompié at Camp Nou, while Real Madrid CF cut the gap at the top to nine points after defeating Albacete Balompié.
With next week's derby against second-placed Madrid on the horizon, Frank Rijkaard's side appeared preoccupied against a Betis team that played much of the encounter with ten men following David Rivas' 14th-minute dismissal. By that time the visitors were already 1-0 ahead, however, after the home defence failed to pick up Joaquín Sánchez, who slotted home Edu's sweeping centre on eleven minutes.
The lead lasted just four minutes before Rivas was shown a red card after obstructing Deco in the penalty area. Samuel Eto'o confidently struck the spot-kick past Antonio Doblas to bring the score level. With Carles Puyol and Rafael Márquez both absent, Barça's back line lacked cohesion and Ricardo Oliviera capitalised on this to break the offside trap and restore the advantage just before half-time.
Joaquín extended the lead just after the hour and Betis looked on course for a shock victory until Eto'o converted a second penalty on 82 minutes after Edu had fouled Juliano Belletti, before Van Bronckhorst lifted the ball over Doblas to make it 3-3 five minutes into added time.
Nevertheless, the dropped points allowed Madrid to close the gap after Vanderlei Luxemburgo's side came from behind against Abacete. Pablo Redondo opened the scoring with a low drive on nine minutes but the lead lasted less than five minutes before Iván Helguera headed in a Luís Figo corner. Michael Owen then put Madrid ahead just before half-time and the Englishman’s tenth league goal of the season proved enough to earn the three points.
Raúl Tamudo, Daniel Jarque and Maxi Rodríguez were all on target as RCD Espanyol defeated Real Racing Club Santander 3-1 to remain in the hunt for a berth in next season's UEFA Champions League. They are one of four clubs separated by just a point, as are Sevilla FC who defeated bottom side CD Numancia 1-0 courtesy of Adriano Correia's second-half strike.
Salva Ballesta scored twice as Club Atlético de Madrid earned an emphatic 4-0 victory against nine-man RCD Mallorca, while RC Deporitvo La Coruña won 1-0 at Levante UD and strugglers Málaga CF and Getafe CF drew 1-1.
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