Late strikes from Michael Owen and Ivan
Helguera enabled Real Madrid to scramble a 2-1 win at Osasuna that kept
them in touch with arch-rivals Barcelona at the top of the Primera Liga
Trailing 1-0 to a Pierre Webo strike with just 13 minutes left, Owen
threw himself at the ball to head home from close range and moments
later Helguera stabbed in from a metre after Osasuna keeper Richard
Sanzol spilled a David Beckham free kick.
The victory, Real's seventh in a row, left them four points behind
Barcelona after 23 games, although the Catalans showed no sign of
loosening their grip on top spot when they overpowered Real Zaragoza 4-1
at La Romareda on Saturday.
Sevilla leapfrogged Valencia into third place, a distant nine points
behind Real, after a double from Brazilian striker Julio Baptista helped
them to a 2-1 win at home to Villarreal on Sunday, a first defeat in 10
games for the Mediterranean side.
Valencia, Real Betis and Espanyol are level a further three points back.
Betis moved up to fifth thanks to a thrilling 4-4 draw at Athletic
Bilbao in the game of the day and a candidate for game of the season.
Betis roared into a 3-0 lead after just 25 minutes, Brazilian striker
Ricardo Oliveira completing two beautifully fashioned counter-attacks
with typically efficient finishing either side of a fine solo goal from
Bilbao responded with four goals of their own, including a double from
centre forward Ismael Urzaiz, to go 4-3 up and Betis looked out of it
when defender Daniel Lembo was sent off in the 73rd minute.
Oliveira, however, completed his hat-trick and earned his side a
deserved draw when he drilled home with another great finish nine
minutes from time.
Osasuna set a breathless pace in the driving rain at El Sadar as they
outfought Real in midfield, dominated possession and then proceeded to
lay siege to the Madrid goal.
If it had not been for two sharp saves from their keeper Iker Casillas,
Real would have been two goals down after the first 20 minutes.
The Spanish international tipped a Richard Morales header on to the bar
after a Patxi Punal free kick and then produced a fine diving save to
turn a Rafael Clavero drive around the post.
Embattled Real had to rely on sporadic counter-attacks and their only
clear chance of the half came when Beckham found Ronaldo on the edge of
the area but the Brazilian spurned his chance as he sent a weak shot
into the arms of Sanzol.
The Real back four struggled to cope with Osasuna striker Morales and it
was the towering Uruguayan who provided a neat headed assist for Webo to
open the scoring after 36 minutes.
The Cameroon forward made the most of his chance as he touched the ball
past Helguera with his right and then lashed past Casillas at the near
post with a venomous left-foot shot.
Osasuna should have extended their lead on the stroke of halftime when
the unmarked Morales sliced over from five metres after Pablo Garcia
picked him out with a fine through pass.
Javier Aguirre's side continued to dominate after the break and former
Real youth player Valdo was denied first by Casillas and then the
woodwork with fine shots from the edge of the area.
Osasuna, however, were paid for their wastefulness when they shipped two
late goals from set pieces to gift Real a vital win.
Owen began the comeback when he launched himself to head across the line
after a Raul shot rebounded off keeper Sanzol into his path from a
Roberto Carlos free kick.
Three minutes later, Helguera poked home from a metre after Sanzol
spilled Beckham's swirling free kick in the driving rain.