MADRID, May 16 (Reuters) -
Real Madrid's late-season implosion continued with a
humiliating 2-1 defeat at already relegated Murcia on Sunday,
a game in which midfielder David Beckham was sent off for
insulting a linesman.
Combined with Barcelona's
1-0 win at home to Racing Santander, the result handed the
Catalans the advantage in the race to secure the runners-up
spot behind Valencia and an automatic berth in the Champions
League group phase.
With one game left champions
Valencia top the table with an unassailable 77 points,
Barcelona are second on 72, two ahead of Real and four in
front of Deportivo Coruna.
Unless Real post a huge win
in their final match of the season against Real Sociedad,
Barca only need to draw their game at Real Zaragoza to
ensure they finish second.
It is the first time in
their 102-year history that Real have lost four league games
in a row.
Athletic Bilbao clinched a
UEFA Cup place with a 2-1 win at Osasuna, midfielder
Francisco Yeste and Ismael Urzaiz grabbing their goals in
the second half.
At the other end of the
table, Barca's neighbours Espanyol spurned an opportunity to
ensure their Primera Liga survival as they surrendered a
two-goal lead to lose 4-2 at Real Mallorca.
The result means Celta Vigo
and Valladolid, who both lost on Saturday, have been thrown
a lifeline and may yet avoid the drop if results go their
way in the final round of matches next week.
Espanyol, though, can still
make sure they stay up with a home win next week over Murcia,
who prop up the table on 26 points despite their surprise
win on Sunday.
Once again it was a former
player who was responsible for Real Madrid's demise.
Murcia striker Luis Garcia,
released by Real at the start of the season, got his side
off to a dream start when he poked in from close range after
visiting goalkeeper Iker Casillas spilled a shot from Richi
in the third minute.
Real, who began knowing
Barca had already won their match against Racing, looked
flustered by the early setback and nearly conceded a second
five minutes later but defender Ivan Helguera managed to
scramble a goal-bound Richi shot off the line.
Murcia, who had won just
four games all season and have the worst scoring record in
the league, had several other good chances to extend their
lead in the early minutes.
But Real, missing the
suspended Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, recovered their nerve
and went on the attack, Beckham seeing a long-range effort
tipped over by keeper Francisco Sanchez Broto and Raul
sending a glancing header wide of the post soon after.
They looked certain to
equalise midway through the half when Argentine midfielder
Santiago Solari checked past two defenders and the keeper
only to fire his shot on to the bar.
Just when it looked as if
Murcia would fold under the pressure, they went 2-0 up after
Helguera conceded a penalty when he handled as the ball spun
off the foot of fellow defender Alvaro Mejia.
Garcia gave Casillas no
chance as he blasted the spot kick high into the net and
things went from bad to worse for Real as Beckham received
his marching orders for shouting an insult to the linesman.
It was the England captain's
second red card since joining Real and means he will end his
first season at the club on a low note, missing the final
game at home to Real Sociedad.
The visitors were unable to
stage a recovery after the break and Murcia, coached by
former Real boss John Toshack, comfortably preserved their
advantage until substitute Guti cracked home a long-range
shot in injury time.