Iván Helguera's late goal earned Real Madrid CF a 1-0 win at Villarreal CF.
Iván Helguera’s late goal ensured Real Madrid CF earned a 1-0 win at Villarreal CF on Saturday night to maintain their one-point advantage at the top of the Primera División.
The central defender steered in a cross from Oscar Miñambres in the 89th minute to deprive Villarreal of a deserved point after the home side had created the majority of the chances at El Madrigal. Madrid nearly fell behind in the third minute when Martin Palermo unleashed a fierce shot which Iker Casillas parried. The Argentinian striker also threatened minutes before the interval, breaking clear only to be dispossessed by Michel Salgado.
José Antonio Guayre was unlucky not to put the home side ahead at the start of the second half when his shot from close-range struck the sidenetting. Madrid failed to seriously threaten until the 60th minute, Luis Figo forcing a fingertip save from José Manuel Reina and it looked like Benito Floro’s men were certain to take something from the game before Helguera’s last-minute strike condemned them to defeat.
Sociedad in touch
Real Sociedad, meanwhile, kept up the pressure on the leaders by overcoming a one-goal deficit to win 2-1 against Real Racing Club Santander at the El Sardinero stadium. Youssi Benayun opened the scoring for the Cantabrian club in the sixth minute, as the Israeli striker steered his shot past Sander Westerveld from five metres. Sociedad levelled when Nihat Kahveci’s 23rd-minute free-kick beat goalkeeper Erwin Lemmens and curled into the corner of the net.
Westerveld made a stunning save immediately after the interval to keep out a long-range effort from Benayun, before Racing's Ismael missed a golden chance, blasting a penalty high over the crossbar. The home side were left to rue the miss when Valeri Karpin tapped in at the far post following a cross from Javier De Pedro in the 61st minute. Mehdi Nafti was sent off with two minutes to go for his second bookable offence.
RC Deportivo La Coruña stayed firmly in contention by defeating Rayo Vallecano 2-0 with goals in either half from top scorer Roy Makaay and Noureddine Naybet. Just as significant as the result, though, was that José Molina returned to the team for the first time since undergoing treatment for testicular cancer. The goalkeeper, who needed chemotherapy after a malignant tumour was detected in a medical in October 2002, was cheered by Deportivo fans every time he touched the ball.
The Galician team, whose UEFA Champions League participation was ended in midweek by a 3-2 defeat at Juventus FC, took the lead when Makaay collected his 20th goal of the campaign thanks to a 16th-minute penalty. Naybet made the points safe five minutes from time.