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Valencia keep the pressure on Real

January 05, 2004 11:54 IST

Valencia staged an impressive second-half fightback to secure a 4-2 win over local rivals Villarreal on Sunday, keeping the pressure on leaders Real Madrid at the top of the table.

A well-drilled Villarreal appeared to be on course for a rare victory at the Mestalla after Argentine playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme put them ahead with a sweetly struck free kick in the first half.

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But the game was turned on its head after the break when Valencia midfielders Ruben Baraja and Pablo Aimar scored two quick-fire goals early on.

Villarreal suffered a further setback when Sergio Ballesteros was sent off soon after for a foul on Carlos Marchena. Baraja took full advantage of their weakened defence to grab his second with a clever angled finish on 73 minutes.

Villarreal refused to fold, however, and hit back with a well-crafted effort from defender Juliano Belletti before Valencia added their fourth, striker Mista guiding home a Ricardo Oliveira pass for his 10th goal of the season.

The win leaves Rafa Benitez's side just two points down on Real, who scraped a 1-0 victory over lowly Murcia at the Bernabeu on Saturday, and four ahead of Deportivo Coruna, who handed Galician rivals Celta Vigo a humiliating 5-0 defeat.

Osasuna lead the chase for the final Champions League berth a distant eight points back in fourth, following their 1-1 draw away to Athletic Bilbao.


In contrast, Barcelona continued their slide into mid-table obscurity after slumping to a 3-0 defeat away to a lively Racing Santander. They now lie 18 points adrift of pacesetting Real.

The Catalans paid a heavy price for failing to cash in on their early domination and Racing took full advantage of some nervous keeping by Rustu Recber to score three times in the second half.

Racing defender Juanma was on hand to poke home from close range after the Turkish international spilled a bobbling free kick from Mario Regueiro on 52 minutes.

Rustu was caught out once more 10 minutes from time when Regueiro scored with a delicate chip after seeing him stray off his line. Striker Javi Guerrero delivered the final blow, powering home a close-range header four minutes later.

Further down the table, last season's runners-up Real Sociedad ended a dramatic slump in form by coming from behind to earn a 2-1 win away to Malaga for their first victory in 10 Primera Liga outings.

The win was enough to lift Sociedad out of the relegation zone where they were replaced by Celta.

Basement side Espanyol also gained a morale-boosting victory on Sunday, ending a five-match losing streak with a 2-0 win at home to Real Mallorca in a game that featured an inspired double-strike from skipper Raul Tamudo.

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