unstoppable march towards their second successive league title had the
brakes put on it by Malaga when they were held to a 0-0 draw by the
"Perhaps a draw was fair because neither side could make an impression
in front of goal," reflected Barca coach Frank Rijkaard.
Poor finishing by the Catalan club and a great game by the Malaga keeper
Francesc Arnau against his former club, where he spent seven seasons,
meant Barca failed to score for only the third time this season.
Barcelona were by far the better side and had more than twice as many
shots on goal as the home side but they were missing some of the magic
usually provided by their inspirational World Player of the Year
Ronaldinho was rested by Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard on Saturday to
keep the Brazilain striker fresh for Tuesday's Champions League
quarter-final first leg match at Benfica.
Henrik Larsson and Ludovic Giuly both went close in the first half
before African Player of the Year Samuel Eto'o, who was playing his
200th league game, had a goal controversially disallowed just before the
Referee Julian Rodriguez Santiago originally gave the goal but then his
linesman said that Henrik Larsson had handled the ball.
Larsson and most of the rest of Barca protested his innocence and
television replays showed clearly that the linesman had got it wrong
with the wayward hand belonged to Malaga captain Fernando Sanz.
Eto'o had further cause to feel frustrated when he hit the cross bar in
injury time at the end of the rather tepid encounter.
Barcelona have 68 points from 30 games and a 14-point point lead at the
top of the Spanish first division after second-placed Osasuna let them
off the hook when they went down 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao later on
The only goal of an entertaining game came after 59 minutes when Luis
Prieto headed home a Francisco Yeste free kick.
Both teams ended with 10-men after Osasuna's Ludovic Delporte and
Athletic's Ismael Urzaiz were sent off for an injury-time brawl.
Real Madrid are one place and one point further back but have a game in
hand and, after three consecutive league draws, they will be hoping to
get back to winning ways against Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.
"We've recently been lacking a little confidence to make the most of our
chances," admitted Real's under-fire coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro on
"We can turn things around and if we have an ambitious mentality. We've
shown promise and worked hard in recent games, now we have to turn that
into results," added Lopez Caro.
The Real coach conspicously failed to confirm that Ronaldo would keep
his place in the starting lineup despite scoring his first goal for more
than a month in Wednesday's 1-1 draw at Real Zaragoza.
"Ronaldo at a good level, I want his to continue to recover his
abilities, but we have other talented strikers like Cassano and Raul,"
commented Lopez Caro on Saturday.
At the back, Alvaro Mejia is suspended and fellow central defender
Jonathan Woodgate has back problems, which means a probable start for
Real Betis eased their relegation worries with a 2-1 win at Villarreal
earlier on Saturday, the Seville-based side's second win in a week and
just their second victory away from home this season.
Betis' Brazilian striker Robert put them seemingly well in control with
two first half goals but they had to survive a nervous last few minutes
as Villarreal staged a furious bid to salvage a point.
Argentine international Juan Pablo Sorin headed home a cross from his
compatriot Juan Roman Riquelme after 78 minutes.
Villarreal nearly got a draw when another of their Argentine contingent
Rodolfo Arruabarrena found the net in injury time but the goal was
disallowed because Sorin was judged to have fouled Betis keeper Pedro