Vol. 5 Num 263 Tue. February 22, 2005  

Primera Liga
Real run snapped

Barcelona extended their Spanish first division lead to seven points with a 2-0 win over Real Mallorca, as their rivals Real Madrid crashed 2-0 at home to Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

The Catalan club's victory was a big boost to their confidence ahead of their Champions League clash with Premiership leaders Chelsea on Wednesday.

"What was pleasing about this match was that we showed our true mental qualities. Mallorca was never going to be an easy game even though they are close to the bottom of the table," said Barca coach Frank Rijkaard.

"Even at 2-0 I couldn't relax but we battled and concentrated."

Mallorca had a chance to take the lead after just 11 minutes when Luis Garcia was held by Barca club captain Carles Puyol.

However, Garcia's shot from the spot was saved by Victor Valdes and the runaway league leaders never looked back.

Deco opened the scoring after 17 minutes, with a 20 yeard run before unleashing a right foot shot that two Mallorca defeders just stood and watched go into the net.

The Portuguese international was on target again 12 minutes after the break, this time with a left foot effort from the edge of the area.

The scoreline could have even more embarrassing but for two superb close-range saves from their 20-year-old keeper Miguel Angel Moya.

"I am proud of the way we played but Barcelona's performance in this match will act as a warning to Chelsea," said Mallorca coach Hector Cuper.

One worrying note for Barca is that Puyol continues to be bothered by a painful right knee.

"I'm not a doctor, and he'll be getting treatment in the next few days, but I think and hope he'll be OK to face Chelsea," said Rijkaard.

Real Madrid's build-up to their own mouth-watering Champions League clash against Juventus on Tuesday suffered a serious setback when they lost for the first time under new coach Wanderley Luxemburgo.

Second half goals from Asier Del Horno and Andoni Iraola ended Real and Luxemburgo's seven-game winning run in the league.

Madrid started the match Saturday with Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and skipper Raul Gonzalez all on the bench, although Luxemburgo threw them all simultaneously into the fray just after the hour.

Real were lucky not to have been a goal down at the break.

In the 17th minute, Tiko Martinez hit a powerful drive which came off the crossbar and beat Iker Casillas in the Real goal.

The referee waved away Athletic's appeals but television replays later showed the ball had crossed the line.

"This was the worst game we've had this year, but the league isn't lost," said Casillas.

"We'll get over this and we are already starting to think about Juventus. In many respects, that is an even more important game for our future."

England striker Michael Owen started just his second league game under Luxemburgo but was replaced by Ronaldo.

However, neither man impressed and the former Brazil boss will have to decide bteween Owen and the out-of-form three-times World Player of the Year against Juventus on Tuesday.

Adding to Real's misery on Saturday was the news that right back Michel Salgado is doubtful to face Juventus.

The Spanish international recieved a blow to his left hamstring late in the game but had to struggle on and finish the match as Real had used up all their substitutes.

His likely replacement is the reserve team player Alvaro Arbeloa, who has just one game in the Real first team to his name.

Sevilla's hopes of being in the Champions League next season took a knock when the third-placed side lost 1-0 at Real Sociedad.

The only goal of the game came four minutes from the whistle when Darko Kovacevic chested down a long ball with his back to the goal, before spinning then blasted it home on the half-volley.