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Real Madrid leads in Spain as Barcelona slips up

REAL Madrid led the Spanish league after beating Racing Santander 1-0 and Barcelona could only draw 1-1 against Athletic Bilbao yesterday.

Madrid has 28 points and Barcelona 27. The teams meet on Nov. 29 in Barcelona.

Gonzalo Higuain's first-half goal, following up on a rebound of a Kaka shot, was enough for Madrid to secure three points.

Daniel Alves broke the deadlock for Barcelona at San Mames Stadium charging on to a Xavi Hernandez pass to score in the 53rd minute. Substitute Gaizka Toquero equalized 10 minutes later.

Barcelona was without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, due to a hamstring injury. Defenders Rafael Marquez and Eric Abidal and midfielder Yaya Toure were also sidelined, with swine flu.

The European champion controlled the game in the early stages, keeping the ball in Bilbao's half and creating several good chances.

Leo Messi, playing in attack alongside Andres Iniesta and Pedro Rodriguez, was a constant threat.

Bilbao, which was knocked out of the Copa del Rey by second-division Rayo Vallecano this month, allowed the Catalans to dominate possession and tried to hit them on the break.

Bilbao's Fernando Llorente earned a free kick when Dmytro Chygrynskiy brought the striker down outside the area in the 41st. Francisco Yeste blasted the kick over. Javi Martinez had his team's best chance of the first half when he rose unmarked to meet a Yeste corner, although his header went wide.

With the scores level and the clock ticking down Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola replaced Messi and Xavi Hernandez with Bojan Krkic and Thierry Henry, and despite some late pressure they could not create a second goal.

Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini played Higuain alongside Karim Benzema in attack, with Raul Gonzalez starting on the bench and Cristiano Ronaldo still out.

The first half hour saw a marked improvement on most of Madrid's performances this season. The team looked comfortable on the ball and carved out several clear chances before fading in the second half.

"We have to take into account that some important players are missing due to injury," Real Madrid director general Jorge Valdano said. "We lacked brilliance and there were some boring spells, although we emerged with credit."

Higuain struck the post and Kaka drew a fine save from Rodriguez during an early spell of fluid passing. Alvaro Arbeloa also struck the post, while midfield playmaker Xabi Alonso had one of his best games for Madrid.

Despite Madrid's dominance of possession, Santander looked dangerous on the break as halftime approached. In the 38th, Mohamed Tchite managed to burst past Marcelo and Ezequiel Garay before shooting wide.

Madrid celebrated soon after the break when Benzema tapped in a cross from Esteban Granero with his instep - only for the referee to rule the striker offside.

The intensity of Madrid's early play faded as the game wore on and Raul replaced Benzema on the hour.

Higuain nearly scored his second when Royston Drenthe set him up after a defensive mix-up, but Rodriguez saved the shot.

Santander's Sergio Canales was ruled offside after scoring in the 78th although replays appeared to show the goal was legal.

Earlier, Sevilla beat Tenerife 2-1 to notch 25 points and keep it in touch with the leaders, while Atletico Madrid lost 2-1 to Deportivo La Coruna after an injury-time penalty to stay in the relegation zone.

Sevilla's Diego Perotti tapped home in the 33rd minute from a cross by winger Jesus Navas. Renato's long-range strike straight after the break underlined the Andalusian team's attacking superiority.

However, Juan Francisco "Nino" Martinez made it 2-1 in the 76th with a first-time shot.

In Tenerife, Sergio Aguero put Atletico ahead in the fourth minute after a lapse by defender Alberto Lopo gave the Argentina striker space to shoot from an acute angle.

La Coruna defender Diego Colotto equalized in the 21st, heading in at the far post from a corner.

Jose Guardado scored from the penalty spot deep into injury time to leave Atletico with seven points and one win from its first 11 games of the season. La Coruna is fourth with 22 points.

Today, it's: Xerez vs. Sporting Gijon; Villarreal vs. Valladolid; Espanyol vs. Getafe; Mallorca vs. Almeria; Malaga vs. Zaragoza and Osasuna vs. Valencia.


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