Sevilla, Atletico rise with wins

Second-half penalties from Mali forward Freddy Kanoute and Spain striker Alvaro Negredo helped Sevilla to a 3-1 home win over strugglers Real Zaragoza as they moved up to fifth in La Liga.

Argentine winger Diego Perotti put Sevilla ahead on 43 minutes, but Jiri Jarosik equalised two minutes after the break. The hosts were then awarded a fortunate penalty with Uruguayan defender Martin Caceres adjudged to have been fouled and Kanoute converted the 56th minute penalty for his ninth league goal of the season.

Negredo won another penalty, which he converted himself, in the dying seconds of the match and the loss leaves Zaragoza languishing one point ahead of the relegation zone with eight games remaining to save themselves.

Sevilla climbed two points above Espanyol into fifth place after the Barcelona-based side saw their European hopes dented by a 2-1 home loss to Racing Santander at the Cornella-El Prat stadium. Argentine Pablo Osvaldo converted a 37th minute penalty to put Espanyol ahead, but second half goals from Gonzalo Colsa and Mexican Giovani dos Santos turned the game in Racing's favour.

This is just the beginning of the road and there are eight stops left so there is no time to relax.
Miroslav Djukic, Hercules coach

Atletico Madrid took full advantage of Espanyol's slip with a 3-2 win over Osasuna in Pamplona to move within one point of the top six. Brazilian striker Diego Costa scored a hat-trick for Atletico after Kike Sola put Osasuna in front on 31 minutes.

Djukic off to winning start
Earlier new Hercules coach Miroslav Djukic enjoyed a winning start in his first match in charge as his team won 3-1 at Real Sociedad to move off the foot of the table. Promoted Hercules had lost nine out of their last 11 league matches, but former Serbia and Montenegro national coach Djukic inspired their first league win since mid-February as they climbed to 18th in the standings.

"The hard work and talking about things don't mean anything if they are not reflected in the scoreline," said Djukic. "This is just the beginning of the road and there are eight stops left so there is no time to relax."

Dutchman Royston Drenthe, on loan from Real Madrid, scored twice in the final ten minutes to ensure a comfortable victory for Hercules after a 69th minute header from Javier Portillo had put them ahead. Hercules move off the bottom, with Almeria replacing them, putting them just one point from safety.

Deportivo La Coruna moved five points clear of the drop zone with a 2-1 comeback home win over Real Mallorca. Cameroon striker Pierre Webo headed Mallorca ahead on 26 minutes, but midfielder Xisco equalised and Frenchman Lassad Nouioui struck a 66th minute winner at the Riazor stadium.

In other matches, Levante are almost safe after a 3-1 win over strugglers Malaga. Two goals in the opening eight minutes helped Levante surge nine points above the relegation zone, while Malaga stay second from bottom.

Barcelona took a giant step towards a third successive league title, yesterday, with a 1-0 win at Villarreal to move eight points clear of Real Madrid with just eight games left to play. Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, on the other hand, saw his nine year 150 match unbeaten home league record ended by a 1-0 home loss to Sporting Gijon. Barcelona capitalised on the slip with three points at Villarreal.

"If you think you are already champions you end up losing the league," warned Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. "It is a good advantage, but Real Madrid will fight until the end and there are lots of points left to play for."