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Real stretch lead

Simon Baskett | March 01, 2004 11:17 IST
Last Updated: March 01, 2004 11:19 IST


Real Madrid took full advantage of slip-ups by title rivals Valencia and Deportivo Coruna as they stretched their lead at the top of the Spanish Primera Liga to eight points with a 4-2 victory over struggling Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Celta looked anything but relegation candidates as they eclipsed Real in the first half and took a deserved lead thanks to a close-range strike from Sasa Ilic on 18 minutes.

But Real roared back into life in the second half and well worked goals from Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo put them 3-1 in front.

Celta striker Savo Milosevic grabbed a late consolation with a cool finish on the break but Real had the final say when Zidane notched his second and his side's fourth in injury time.

Earlier, Valencia had come unstuck when they went down 2-1 to struggling Espanyol at a snowy Montjuic, while in Sunday's late match Deportivo Coruna lost 3-2 to a rejuvenated Barcelona in a thrilling match at the Riazor.

The Catalans appeared to be heading for a comfortable win as they stormed into a 3-0 lead after 48 minutes thanks to a double from the brilliant Ronaldinho and a close-range strike from Javier Saviola following a magnificent passing move involving Xavi and Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

But substitute Walter Pandiani put Deportivo right back in the game with two goals in five minutes, both coming from expert headers after defender Enrique Romero had flighted the ball into the area.

There was a heart-stopping finale when Barca midfielder Thiago Motta was controversially sent off for a foul committed by one of his team mates and Deportivo striker Albert Luque somehow contrived to put the ball over the bar from point-blank range.

Frank Rijkaard's side now trail Deportivo by just four points in fourth place, while the Galicians remain one adrift of Valencia.

EARLY CHANCES

Against all expectations Radomir Antic's Celta made an explosive start at the Bernabeu, creating a string of scoring chances in the opening minutes.

Carlos Queiroz's Real side did not manage a shot on goal until Raul fired a snap shot from the edge of the area after a quarter of an hour and it was the visitors who took the lead three minutes later.

Ilic made the most of some slack marking from the Real defence to poke in from close range after an Alexander Mostovoi corner had fallen to his feet.

Real, jeered off by their fans at halftime, continued to look shaky after the restart and Casillas had to react quickly to block a sharp shot from Savo Milosevic in the 54th minute.

But a minute later they got the breakthrough that changed the course of the match when Ronaldo stabbed in from close range after Pinto had failed to hold a David Beckham header to bring the Brazilian striker's tally for the season to 22 goals.

Real immediately began to ooze confidence and after 64 minutes they took the lead when Zidane met a pin-point Luis Figo cross with an expert header.

Figo himself scored Real's third when he raced on to an excellent lofted pass from Beckham, controlled with his thigh and beat Pinto with a low, angled shot.

Although Milosevic cut Real's lead with a well taken goal in the 90th minute, Zidane made it 4-2 with a great finish from the edge of the area after more good work from the outstanding Figo.


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