Real Madrid's Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, right, shoots and scores as
Athletic Bilbao's Pablo Orbaiz, left, arrives on the scene too late [AFP]


Real Madrid moved seven points clear at the top of the Spanish Primera Liga after a Ruud van Nistelrooy second half strike earned a 1-0 away win against Athletic Bilbao at the Estadio San Mames.

The Dutch forward angled a powerful right-foot shot into the far corner of the net after 55 minutes to take his tally for the season to seven league goals.

The victory gave Bernd Schuster's side 35 points from 15 matches, seven ahead of Barcelona and Villarreal who both play on Sunday.

Athletic thrashed Valencia 3-0 last weekend and made an ambitious start in front of their home crowd when striker Fernando Llorente headed over the bar and midfielder David Lopez fired straight at Real keeper Iker Casillas in the first few minutes.

However Real rose to the challenge with Daniel Aranzubia, Bilbao keeper, having to make two great reaction saves to stop quick-fire shots from Raul and Robinho.

Casillas produced a stunning save of his own to block a point-blank header from Llorente just before the half hour, but despite plenty of action in both areas neither side was able to break the deadlock before halftime.

It took just one error from Athletic early in the second half for that to change, with Van Nistelrooy snapping the ball off the foot of a defender, cutting inside towards the area and firing his shot into the far corner to put his side ahead.

The former Manchester United player was denied a second when defender Koikili whipped the ball away from his feet as he was bearing down on goal, while Robinho hit the base of the post soon after with a fierce drive from distance.

Athletic refused to wilt under the pressure and Llorente and Andoni Iraola both went close late on in an exciting finale.

Valencia's woes continue

Earlier, Ronald Koeman's Valencia continued their poor run of form with a 0-0 draw at Osasuna.

The Dutchman decided to field a new-look side after last weekend's 3-0 home defeat by Bilbao but his tactical changes had little effect as Valencia turned in another awkward performance.

Valencia, who have won just two of their last seven league matches and have failed to find the net in their last three, remain sixth, 10 points behind Real.

"Neither team created many chances but one positive is that we were much more solid at the back," said Koeman.

"We have to improve going forward but I saw a well-organised team that fought very hard.

"This is the path we have to follow."

Source: Agencies