Real defeat adds to Bernabeu misery
A miserable few days for Real Madrid was capped by a shock 3-2 home defeat to lowly Real Zaragoza that all but ends their already slim hopes of winning the Primera Division title.
Three days after seeing their Champions League hopes take a massive hit with a 2-0 semi-final first leg defeat to Barcelona, Madrid can almost bid farewell to the league following this loss. If Barça defeat Real Sociedad later this evening then the Catalan club will move 11 points clear with only four games remaining.
Angel Lafita was Madrid's tormentor-in-chief, scoring two of Zaragoza's goals and winning the penalty that led to Gabi scoring the third. Madrid had hit back from 2-0 and 3-1 down with goals from Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema but they could not find a third, and they also finished the match with ten men following Ricardo Carvalho's late sending-off.
"We can practically say goodbye to the miracle of trying to win the league," said Iker Casillas. "Everything was more complicated because of my mistake but we are all human and make mistakes. Now we have to go to Barcelona to try and win. We trail by two goals but anything can happen and we will go with the hope of playing the Champions League final in a month's time."
While the result was bad for Madrid, Zaragoza provisionally move four points clear of the drop zone with a potentially invaluable victory. Madrid coach Jose Mourinho made eight changes to the side that started against Barça and selected the majority of the team that did so well in thrashing third-placed Valencia 6-3 away from home last week.
However, Madrid, who led 4-0 at half-time at the Mestalla, did not find it anywhere as easy to break down Zaragoza's massed defence as they had against Valencia, and a 25-yard effort from Kaka that went wide was their only serious threat in the opening period.
In contrast, Zaragoza came close to breaking the deadlock after just six minutes, Ikechukwu Uche seeing his effort parried by Casillas, and the visitors went one better than that just before the break when they took the lead.
The goal was one that Casillas will not want to see again as he completely fluffed his attempted clearance after racing out of his area, allowing Uche to feed the ball inside to Lafita, who tapped the ball into an empty net. Despite his side's struggles, Mourinho - who had omitted top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo from his match-day squad - did not make any changes at the break.
The Portuguese waited just eight minutes of the second half to switch things around though, sending on Angel Di Maria and Marcelo for youngsters Sergio Canales and Nacho Gonzalez, but before either could make an impact Zaragoza went 2-0 ahead. A quick Zaragoza counter-attack ended with Carvalho bringing down Lafita just inside the area, and from the resulting penalty Gabi sent Casillas the wrong way.
That left Madrid staring at just a fourth league defeat of the season, but they gave themselves a lifeline when Ramos pulled a goal back in the 62nd minute. Mesut Ozil, who had come on in place of Esteban Granero, curled over a corner from the left and Ramos planted a header past visiting goalkeeper Antonio Doblas.
Lafita restores calm
Boosted by that goal Madrid turned up the pressure on the Zaragoza defence and Benzema saw a header saved by Doblas before the Frenchman smashed a shot against the crossbar. However, the home side's hopes of getting anything out of the match suffered a huge blow in the 77th minute when Zaragoza netted a third following a rapid counter-attack.
A Madrid corner was cleared to Uche, whose ball into the middle found Lafita in acres of space and he beat Casillas when one-on-one.
That was not the end of the scoring though, and Madrid, having gone close through Benzema and Kaka, made it 3-2 in the 84th minute through Benzema, who picked up a pass from Gonzalo Higuain before firing into the far bottom corner.
The loss of Carvalho to a second yellow card soon after dented Madrid's hopes of an equaliser, but they still continued to push forward. However, despite six minutes of injury time, they could not find a way through and they now look set to see bitter rivals Barca win the league title for third successive season.