Racing put the brakes on nine-man Madrid's title bid

Updated: 2007-04-16 06:50

MADRID: Two late penalties from Racing Santander's Ezequiel Garay, the winner coming just seconds before the end of regulation time, handed nine-man Real Madrid a demoralizing 2-1 defeat on Saturday.

It was a bad night for Real in every respect.

Not only did Real's eight game unbeaten streak come to an end, the 29-time Spanish champions squandered the chance to overtake league leaders and bitter rivals Barcelona and go top of La Liga for the first time in 18 months.

Real also ended the game with just nine men after defenders Ivan Helguera and Alvaro Mejia were sent off in the final minutes of the game.

"We came to a difficult ground and played a good game, one of our best of the year. We dominated the first half and Racing only did well at corners and with the two penalties," grumbled Real coach Capello.

"The second penalty came when our players were talking to the referee about a free kick," added the indignant Italian coach.

Garay, who is reported to be courted by several English Premiership clubs, started out as the game's villain before redeeming himself by scoring twice from the spot.

The Argentine made an uncharacteristic mistake after 33 minutes and his weak clearance was easily blocked on the edge of the area by his compatriot Gonzalo Higuain.

Higuain then found Raul Gonzalez unmarked in the area and the Real captain's low left foot shot from 10 yards slipped under the body of Racing goalkeeper Tono Rodriguez.

Things started to go wrong for Real 18 minutes from the end when Mahamadou Diarra's late challenge on Lionel Scaloni in the area gave Garay the chance to make amends for his earlier error and he equalised with a right foot shot.

Helguera was sent off for his second yellow card four minutes before the end and Fabio Cannavaro then gave Racing, and Garay, their second penalty with a foul on Nicola Zigic before Mejia was also dismissed in injury time.

"We are very angry with the referee. We don't think the two penalties were fair," said Cannavaro.

"Diarra got to the ball and I didn't foul Zigic. It's very difficult to bring down someone who is 2.02m and I'm not that (tall)," added the World Player of the Year in reference to Racing's giant Serbian striker.

Reigning champions Barcelona will face Mallorca without their two-time World Player of the Year Ronaldinho.

The Brazilian has been suffering from a high temperature and sore throat since Tuesday.

"It will be interesting to see how the team reacts without Ronaldinho. He's quite weak but he's played a lot of games and has had very few days off," said Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard at a press conference on Saturday.

Barca striker Samuel Eto'o returns after missing last week's 1-0 loss at Real Zaragoza due to a muscle problem at the top of his right leg.

Sevilla will play fifth-placed Valencia, with the 2002 and 2004 champions looking to bounce back after their dramatic loss to Chelsea in the Champions League on Tuesday.

"We are experienced to know that we have got to pick ourselves up straight after a loss like that," said Valencia's Spanish defender Carlos Marchena.

AFP

(China Daily 04/16/2007 page11)