Valencia and Real Madrid dance to the samba beat
MADRID: Valencia regained their place at the top of the Spanish first division by winning 1-0 at Barcelona while defending champions Real Madrid made hard work of beating Espanyol 2-1 Sunday.
The triumphant teams can both thank their Brazilian strikers for the goals that gave them their narrow victories. Valencia’s goal came after just 13 minutes from a stunning left-foot, half-volley by Ricardo Oliveira, who was signed from Santos during the summer and who has quickly become a hit after also scoring against Real Madrid a week ago.
Oliveira has started to be talked about in the same breath as his illustrious compatriot Ronaldo, who continued to show exactly why he is one of the world’s top strikers by getting both of Real’s goals, one with his right foot and the other with his head. “It is always difficult to score against a team like Espanyol who are trying to close everything down by using five defenders and four midfielders just in front of them,” said Ronaldo.
For the moment though, 2001-02 champions Valencia have the bragging rights as they lead the league and are unbeaten with 16 points from their six games. Deportivo La Coruna lie second, one point behind after thrashing Atletico Madrid 5-1 on Saturday, while Real remain third on 13 points. Valencia had the better of an entertaining match in the Nou Camp although Barca pressed hard in search of an equaliser during the second half and the Catalans nearly salvaged a point, and their unbeaten record, when Javier Saviola hit the bar, three minutes from time.
Espanyol coach Javier Clemente ensured that his contest with Real Madrid would be a tight and scrappy affair by deciding to pack his defence with eight men or more for much of the match. “Espanyol fought a lot and were determined to win the ball and that made things complicated,” said Real coach Carlos Queiroz. “But the number of opportunities we created meant that we fully deserved our victory. “I’ve seen this type of game many times in my life, where just one team tries to score. We perhaps could have had three or four goals but if an opponent counter-attacks and scores then things become more difficult.”
It took Real 51 minutes to break down the visitors, Ronaldo finally sending home a right foot shot after service from Raul. Raul himself found the net two minutes later but his effort was disallowed for pushing the Espanyol goalkeeper Erwin Lemmens. Real continued to press, with Zinedine Zidane doing his best despite the close attention of the Espanyol defenders, but it was another 30 minutes before the hosts were able to add to their tally.
David Beckham crossed from the right and his pinpoint pass found the head of Ronaldo. Espanyol were then reduced to 10 men in injury time after Pierre Wome got his second yellow card but Real were made to pay for easing up as Alex Fernandez produced a sparkling individual effort to get a consolation goal.
Clemente said that he believed Espanyol could have won the game. “We defended well enough, but we had two clear opportunities and didn’t make the most of them,” said the coach. “But sometimes you don’t get a drop of water when you are thirsty,” added Clemente, who is well aware that Espanyol are firmly in relegation trouble just six games into the season and without a win to their name.
Unfashionable Osasuna continued their impressive start with a 1-1 draw at Real Mallorca to move into fourth place. Mallorca took the lead, against the run of play, when 37-year-old defender Miguel Angel Nadal headed home a Nene corner seven minutes from the end.
However, the visitors took just 49 seconds to equalise, with Pierre Webo securing a draw almost immediately from the restart. Murcia got their first win since their return to the top flight after a 14-year absence, a 1-0 victory over fellow strugglers Albacete, thanks to a stunning sixth minute free kick by summer signing Michel Sanchez. —AFP