Real rue missed opportunity

Real Madrid squander a chance to top the Spanish league ahead of rivals Barcelona.

    Ronaldo reacts to a missed shot on target as Real fail to take the advantage [AFP]
    Real Madrid missed their chance to top Spain's Primera Division after being held to a 0-0 draw at Osasuna.

    A win would have put Madrid level on points with Barcelona and ahead on goal difference after the Catalans drew 1-1 against Villarreal on Saturday.

    Barcelona lead the standings with 40 points after the first round of games following the winter break. Real Madrid are next with 38, Valencia have 32.

    "We wanted to win because it was a very important game but this is a very tough place to play,'' said Madrid's Marcelo.

    "Now we have to keep working and winning to catch up with Barcelona.''

    Mallorca fourth

    In other results on Sunday, Mallorca moved up to fourth place and the Champions League spots by beating Athletic Bilbao 2-0 thanks to second-half goals from Julio Alvarez and Aritz Aduriz.

    Alvarez's left-footed shot glanced off a defender and looped into the goal in the 49th minute.

    Aduriz scored his eighth of the season in the 66th when he lobbed goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz.

    Mallorca's eighth home win out of eight give them 30 points. Bilbao are eighth on 26 points.

    Racing Santander and Almeria both climbed away from the relegation zone with wins.

    Santander beat Tenerife 2-0 with second-half goals from Gonzalo Colsa and Francisco "Xisco'' Jimenez, lifting the team two places to 14th on 16 points.

    Almeria beat bottom-placed Xerez 1-0 with an 89th minute winner from Jose Ortiz Bernal in Juan Manuel Lillo's first game in charge following the departure of Hugo Sanchez.

    The result leaves Almeria in 15th place on 16 points.

    Another struggling team, Malaga, appeared to have risen out of the bottom three, twice going ahead against Sporting Gijon with goals from Sergio "Duda'' Barbosa and Weligton before the hosts equalised through Gregory Arnolin and a long-range shot by Roberto Canella.

    Malaga remain 18th with 13 points.

    No Kaka

    Liga results

    Saturday January 2

     Atletico Madrid 2-1 Sevilla
     Barcelona 1-1 Villarreal
     Valencia 1-0 Espanyol

    Sunday January 3

     Almeria 1-0 Xerez
     Getafe 1-0 Valladolid
     Mallorca 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
     Osasuna 0-0 Real Madrid
     Racing 2-0 Tenerife
     Zaragoza 0-0 Deportivo
     Sporting Gijon 2-2 Malaga

    At the Reyno de Navarra stadium, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain led the Madrid attack, supported by Rafael van der Vaart in a playmaking role as Kaka completes his recovery from injury.

    The game opened at a frantic pace with both sides finding it hard to settle into their game. In the 17th minute, Sergio Ramos fed Ronaldo down the right, although the Portugal striker's return pass was too subtle for the defender, who was left standing.

    Though Madrid had more possession, Osasuna's Carlos Aranda and Walter Pandiani managed to unsettle the visitors going forward.

    Madrid were particularly vulnerable at set pieces and Miguel Flano came close in the 32nd minute when he headed Francisco Punales' corner wide. Iker Casillas had to save Javad Nekounam's header from another corner kick shortly before half-time.

    Ronaldo, Marcelo and Alvaro Arbeloa combined to effect on the counter attack although Van der Vaart's shot was weak.

    Ronaldo was at the centre of most of his team's attacks and he blasted a free kick from just outside the area over the bar in the 57th minute.

    A rare error by Casillas nearly put the hosts ahead when he mis-punched Flano's header from a corner before his defence cleared the ball.

    Karim Benzema came on for Van der Vaart on the hour to bolster Madrid's attack and Raul Gonzalez replaced Higuain shortly after.

    With time running out the game opened up and both sides started making chances. Higuain was through on goal after a defensive lapse by Osasuna although the Argentina striker shot high.



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