Real Madrid carved out a 3-2 win at Recreativo Huelva on Saturday to open up a five-point lead at the top of La Liga, as rivals Barcelona crashed to a 4-2 defeat at Atletico Madrid. In a wildly fluctuating game, Real were stunned when Recreativo defender Martin Caceres latched on to a Carlos Martins free-kick to give the hosts a dream start after 16 minutes.
However, Recreativo had only themselves to blame for allowing Real to equalise after 27 minutes. A poor clearance by Huelva defender Iago Bouzon went straight to the feet of Royston Drenthe, and the Dutch winger sent in a high ball into the area for Real captain Raul to head home.
It was the perfect way for Raul to celebrate going equal second, along with club legend Carlos Santillana, on the Real rankings of all-time appearances for the club. The pair have played for the Spanish giants 643 times and only Raul's former team-mate Manuel Sanchis is ahead of him with 708 appearances.
Recreativo were then reduced to ten men just five minutes after the break when their Portuguese international defender Beto was sent off after reacting to a Gabriel Heinze challenge, stabbing a finger in the Argentine's face. They only stayed at a disadvantage for five minutes before Sergio Ramos got his second yellow card.
The dismissals continued when Recreativo's Quique Alvarez was shown a direct red card by referee Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez for a tackle on Arjen Robben after 67 minutes. The Dutch winger sustained a badly sprained left ankle which will probably rule him out of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League clash with Roma.
Robinho then put Real ahead after 72 minutes just seconds after coming on the pitch, picking up a loose ball and squeezing it between Recreativo keeper Stefano Sorrentino and his left post, and another a minute before the whistle. Martins added Recreativo's second goal two minutes into injury time.
South Americans sinkBarça
Barcelona's Ronaldinho opened the scoring for the visitors with a spectacular overhead kick after Spanish international playmaker Xavi Hernandez had lofted the ball from the right flank. However, the goal galvanised a lack-lustre Atletico into action.
"Our problems were that we failed to control the ball and create further opportunities. We spent too much time passing but were not very dangerous," conceded Barça coach Frank Rijkaard.
Kun Aguero shrugged off the thigh problems which had made him a doubtful starter with an equaliser from the edge of the area six minutes later, although his thunderbolt shot took a wicked deflection off Barca captain Carles Puyol. Maxi Rodriguez then put Atletico in the lead three minutes before the break, slotting the ball past Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes from a narrow angle.
Diego Forlan added Atletico's third from the penalty spot just after the hour, the spot-kick coming after Puyol felled Aguero in the area. Aguero then added to Barcelona'a embarrassment after 70 minutes, sprinting from the midfield before unleashing a superb right-foot shot from the end of the area, before Samuel Eto'o pulled one back for the Catalan heavyweights three minutes later.
Espanyol climb as Sevilla stumble
Atletico's win keeps them in fourth place, a position helped after Sevilla went down 2-1 at lowly Deportivo La Coruna. Fredi Kanoute opened the scoring for Sevilla after 25 minutes.
Deportivo equalised ten minutes later through a Christian Wilhelmsson penalty and Angel Lafita got their winner midway through the second half with a rasping shot from just outside the area to lift the Galician side out of the relegation zone.
Espanyol, meanwhile, leap-froged Sevilla into fifth place following their 2-0 win over slumping Valencia with a goal in each half from Luis Garcia.