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Madrid beats Valladolid to keep pace with Barca

RAUL Gonzalez and Arjen Robben scored yesterday as Real Madrid beat Valladolid 2-0 to stay six points behind Spanish leader Barcelona.

Raul struck his 15th of the season in the 44th minute after splitting two defenders to direct Gonzalo Higuain's centering pass beyond goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo.

Moments after Pepe appeared to foul Valladolid striker Henok Goitom inside the area, Robben scored on a quick counterattack in the 82nd from Jose Maria "Guti" Gutierrez's long pass as Madrid overcame an uninspired performance.

Madrid barely threatened the Valladolid goal despite the return of Robben from injury and strikers Raul, Higuain and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar all in the lineup.

"It's easier to win when you're playing well than badly but there are still times when you don't play well. This was one of those times," said coach Juande Ramos, who has led the Spanish champion to 14 wins in 16 games. "The priority is the points. In our situation, there is no margin for error."

Madrid has 69 points while Barcelona has 75 after beating bottom-of-the-table Recreativo Huelva on Saturday to warm up for Tuesday's Champions League quarterfinal match at Bayern Munich where the Catalans will play with a 4-0 first-leg advantage.

Juanma Mata beat goalkeeper Inaki Lafuente in the 88th as Valencia won 3-2 against Sporting Gijon to overtake Villarreal for fourth in the table, the final Champions League qualifying place.

David Silva evaded several Sporting players before shooting through a crowd and under Lafuente in the 19th to open the scoring for Valencia before David Barral equalized from the spot in the 36th.

David Villa, whose career began at Sporting, scored his 22nd goal of the season with a penalty in the 56th, but Mate Billic took advantage of slack defending in the 71st to head home before Mata's ninth strike of the season condemned Sporting to its league-high 19th defeat.

Valencia has 49 points, Villarreal 48 and Atletico Madrid joined Malaga at 46 after Sergio Aguero and Simao Sabrosa netted in a 2-1 victory at Deportivo La Coruna.

Diego Forlan played Aguero through in the 45th and the Argentina striker flicked the ball over goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia for his 14th goal.

Simao then held off a defender to streak into the area in the 70th and beat Aranzubia to score Atletico's 4,000th league goal.

Rodolfo Bodipo pulled one back for Deportivo, which is winless in four and lies eighth with 43 points, in the 87th.

Jaime Gavilan's 82nd-minute score allowed Getafe to snap a five-game losing streak and pick up a 1-0 victory at Sevilla, which had dominated the second half before Gavilan struck on a quick counter.

Sevilla stayed third with 57 points.

Also yesterday, it was: Racing Santander 2, Real Betis 3; Mallorca 2, Almeria 0; Osasuna 2, Athletic Bilbao 1; Numancia 0, Espanyol 0.

Achile Emana scored two goals to give Betis coach Jose Maria Nogues a victory in his first game since taking over for the fired Paco Chaparro.

The Cameroon midfielder put Betis ahead for good in the 53rd when he slid the ball under substitute goalkeeper Fabio Coltorti.

Racing was reduced to 10 men moments earlier when goalkeeper Antonio Rodriguez was red-carded for a tackle on Emana, who also scored from an individual effort in the 29th after teammate Edu Schmidt had canceled out Peter Luccin's early opener.

Nicolas Zigic scored Racing's second in the 32nd - the Serbia striker's 10th goal since joining on-loan from Valencia in January.

Cleber Santana scored from an acrobatic bicycle kick and Chori Castro added another in injury time as Mallorca gained a valuable victory against Almeria, a potential relegation foe.

Sergio Fernandez's 80th-minute goal allowed Osasuna to join Mallorca on 35 points, five ahead of 18th-place Recreativo in the final relegation spot. Getafe, Betis, Almeria and Athletic all have 34 points.

Masoud Soleimani had put Osasuna ahead at the Reyno de Navarro stadium in the 21st before Aitor Ocio equalized with a header two minutes later.

Numancia and last-place Espanyol remained unchanged at the bottom of the standings with eight games left in the season.

Malaga beat Villarreal 2-0 on Saturday.


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