Raúl González's late winner against RC Deportivo La Coruña ensured Real Madrid CF stayed top.
Reigning champions Real Madrid CF retained top spot in the Spanish Primera División on Sunday thanks to a 2-1 home win against title rivals RC Deportivo La Coruña.
Both teams competed in the UEFA Champions League in midweek, with Deportivo doing enough to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition after scoring twice in a 3-2 reverse by PSV Eindhoven. But the attention switched to domestic matters on Sunday - and their meeting produced a thrilling climax.
Looking to collect their first win at the Santiago Bernabéu since the 1955/56 season, Deportivo were dealt a blow just before half-time when Zinedine Zidane expertly put through Ronaldo and the Brazilian duly collected his 13th league goal of the season. Substitute Uruguayan striker Walter Pandiani gave the visitors hope when he equalised in the 62nd minute, seconds after entering the action, but Raúl González dashed the Galician team’s chances of a point by tapping in Ronaldo’s assist with six minutes to go.
In the hunt
Second-placed Valencia CF kept the pressure on Madrid by securing a 1-0 away win at Real Betis Balompié courtesy of an own goal from centre-back Juanito, who turned in a dangerous cross from Jorge López in the 17th minute.
A record six players were sent off as FC Barcelona overcame city neighbours RCD Espanyol 3-1 away from home in the Catalan derby on Saturday. Espanyol were also involved in the match which beat the previous record for red cards - a total of five were handed out in their encounter with RCD Mallorca in 1987.
Those to fall foul of the referee on this occasion for the home team were Iván de la Peña, Antonio Soldevilla and Alberto Lopo - while Rafael Márquez, Ricardo Quaresma and Phillip Cocu were given their marching orders for the visitors. All but De la Peña’s dismissal came after the break and Barça were down to eight men with 20 minutes still to go.
The goals, however, arrived in the first half. Jordi Cruyff opened the scoring for the home team early on after a cross from De La Peña but Ronaldinho, who was returning from injury, equalised immediately. Patrick Kluivert twice capitalised on blunders in the Espanyol defence to ensure Frank Rijkaard’s side picked up their first league victory in five matches - albeit with heads bowed.
RC Celta de Vigo, who qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League in midweek with a victory against AC Milan, were held to a 2-2 draw by Club Atlético de Madrid. Argentinian defender Diego Simeone put the away side ahead but French midfield player Peter Luccin levelled in the 37th minute. Savo Milosevic struck his sixth goal of the campaign just before the break but Matías Lequi's late strike snatched a point.
Goalkeeper José Manuel Reina was the protagonist as Villarreal CF beat Real Sociedad de Fútbol 2-0. He saved Darko Kovacevic's penalty and provided the pass which allowed Sonny Anderson to score the second goal after Juan Román Riquelme had struck in the 12th minute.
Elsewhere, Málaga CF’s recent revival continued thanks to a 3-1 win against RCD Mallorca. Real Zaragoza were undone at home by a late goal from Mikel in their encounter with Albacete Balompié while CA Osasuna fought out a scoreless draw away to Real Racing Club Santander to move a point clear of Atlético in fourth spot. Real Valladolid CF and Real Murcia CF also cancelled each other out 0-0 and Athletic Club Bilbao defeated Sevilla FC 2-1.