Tag Archives: Barcelona

Spanish La Liga Week 24 Roundup

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Real Madrid were fortunate to maintain their double digit lead in the race for the La Liga crown in Week 24, after a resilient Rayo Vallecano side made life very difficult for the league front runners.

Los Blancos were able to overcome Rayo 1-0 thanks to a beautiful back heel finish by Cristiano Ronaldo – easily one of the top goals of the campaign thus far. Rayo appeared the more interested side for a large part of the game, with Piti hitting a post and Michu being denied by a last minute tackle by Sergio Ramos in the first half.

Madrid manager Jose Mourinho reportedly admitted his team was lucky to escape with three points. Rayo not only held a larger percentage of the possession – 54 percent to Madrid’s 46 percent – but they also had more than double the corner kicks, 12 to five.

The teams went into the break with the match at a scoreless draw, but Madrid’s greatest goal threat put them ahead in the 54th minute, when Ronaldo collected a loose ball in the box and powerfully propelled a shot with the back of his foot through a crowd of defenders, past Rayo keeper Joel and into the far corner.

Despite a myriad of second half scoring opportunities for Rayo, substitute Jose Maria Callejon should have sealed the game for Madrid nine minutes from time – when Ronaldo’s cross found him alone in front of net – but the Spaniard’s touch on the ball sent it dribbling past the post and out for a goal kick.

Late game heroics by Lionel Messi kept Barcelona from slipping further behind Real in the standings, as the Blaugrana bested Atletico Madrid 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon.

Messi had a goal called back early in the first half after referee Perez Lasa ruled the Argentine controlled the ball with his hand – an offence for which he received a yellow card – but Dani Alves opened the scoring in the 36th minute. Messi eluded three defenders to lay the ball wide to Cesc Fabregas, whose cross found an unmarked Alves in the box for an easy finish.

Radamel Falcao brought Atletico level in the 49th minute by finishing Gabi’s corner, but Los Rojiblancos were destined to be denied the draw by the brilliance of Messi nine minutes from time.

The Ballon d’Or winner sent a stunning free kick curling over keeper Thibaut Courtois and into the far corner of the net for a magnificent goal. The play was not without controversy, however, as Atletico asserted they were still assembling their wall when the free kick was struck.

Despite going ahead early, third place Valencia were undone 2-1 by Sevilla in front of 50,000 supporters at the Mestalla.

Alberto Costa put the hosts in front in the 25th minute with a blistering, low strike from roughly 25 yards away that found the left corner of the goal.

Sevilla responded just nine minutes later, when Jesus Navas’ cross from the right found the head of Gary Medel in the center of the box.

Navas ultimately burned Valencia a second time by providing the decisive goal in the 70th minute. The Spaniard struck an easy finish after Frederic Kanoute’s pass found him alone in the six yard box.

In a clash of European hopefuls, Levante restored some semblance of order in their season by defeating Espanyol 2-1 at the Cornella-El Prat.

Espanyol came into the match behind fourth place Athletic Bilbao only on goal difference, while Levante were a mere point behind Los Leones.

Valdo put Levante ahead in the 24th minute when he received Arouna Kone’s pass in space and fired home past Francisco Casilla.

The frustrated home supporters were forced to wait until the 75th minute for an equalizer, when Kalu Uche headed home Joan Verdu’s floating free kick from the right side.

Ruben Suarez’s free kick from 30 yards restored Levante’s lead with less than two minutes remaining – proving to be the decisive play and providing the Valencia-based side with a gripping victory.

Villarreal – with their heads now above the relegation zone – rescued a point in a suspenseful 2-2 draw against Athletic Bilbao at El Madrigal.

The hosts struck first 10 minutes from the start thanks to a lovely free kick by captain Marcos Senna. The match went into the break with Villarreal in front, but Bilbao responded 17 minutes after the restart when substitute Fernando Llorente delivered a calm header to the back post.

The visitors captured the lead a mere four minutes later, in the 66th, when Markel Susaeta broke free on a counter attack and fired past keeper Diego Lopez.

Villarreal wasted no time in equalizing, as substitute Nilmar scored a rebound goal in the 68th minute after Bilbao keeper Gorka Iraizoz failed to hold a relatively weak strike by Alejandro Martinuccio.

Malaga thrashed lowly Real Zaragoza 5-1, with four goals in a span of 21 minutes. The La Liga bottom dwellers, who have now lost 15 matches thus far this campaign, took a shocking lead on Carlos Aranda’s goal in the 23rd minute, but Sebastian Fernandez headed home an equalizer for Malaga on the stroke of halftime. An own goal by Paulo Da Silva sparked Malaga’s onslaught, prompting subsequent strikes by Martin Demichelis, Isco and Jose Salomon Rondon.

Elsewhere in Spain, Osasuna stayed in the mix for a spot in Europe by defeating Granada 2-1 with a pair of first-half goals.

José Antonio Dorado Ramírez’s own goal cost Real Betis two points, as they tied 1-1 with Getafe.

Real Sociedad leapfrogged Mallorca in the La Liga standings with 1-0 victory provided by Imanol Agirretxe’s 79th minute goal.

A penalty by Christian Stuani in the 74th minute provided Racing Santander with a 1-1 draw at home against Sporting Gijon.

La Liga Week 20 Roundup

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Real Madrid are hoping seven is their new lucky number, as Los Blancos increased their points lead over archrivals Barcelona at the top of La Liga to more than half a dozen with a 3-1 victory over last place Real Zaragoza.

After being dismissed from the Copa del Rey midweek, Madrid was playing from behind early after an 11th minute goal by Zaragoza’s Angel Lafita. A quickly played free-kick sprung Carlos Aranda on the right wing, and his cross found the foot of Lafita, who beat Iker Casillas from close range.

Real, who haven’t won La Liga in three seasons, immediately stormed back in an effort to get level before the half. A Karim Benzema attempt was blocked by defender Maurizio Lanzaro, and Kaka squandered two opportunities to bring Los Merengues level on crosses from Mesut Ozil and Marcelo. The Brazilian was ultimately able to equalize in the 32nd minute, firing a low shot past keeper Roberto Gago after Ricardo Carvalho’s through ball sent him clear into the area.

The hosts took the lead a mere four minutes after the restart, when Ozil’s cross from the right found the foot of Cristiano Ronaldo, who calmly tapped the ball into the back of the net. Seven minutes later, it was the German playmaker’s turn to get on the score sheet. A superb build-up by Granero and Kaka left Ozil streaking into the left side of the area, and he hammered the ball with his left, forcing it past Roberto from a tight angle.

Barcelona, who sat eight points behind after Madrid’s win, was able to manage only a point by playing to a scoreless draw with Villareal at El Madrigal.

The Blaugrana were lucky not to be sunk by the Yellow Submarine, who could have taken the lead on several different occasions during the first half.

It was Barcelona, however, that had the best opportunity of the half – and possibly the game – when Lionel Messi was one on one with the charging Diego Lopez 17 minutes in. The Argentine calmly chipped the ball over the goalkeeper, but the ball squirmed past the post – allowing the home fans to exhale.

As the game progressed, Barcelona pushed the hosts back deeper into their own third.

Substitute Cristian Tello ran to the byline and cut back cleverly, finding Cesc Fabregas waiting in the 78th minute. The Spaniard’s low shot was deflected on its way to goal, allowing Lopez to get a hand to it and push it firmly against the bar.

With five minutes remaining, a brilliant give and go between Alexis Sanchez and Messi left the World Player of the Year alone with Lopez, who blocked the subsequent shot with his legs. The rebound spilled to Fabregas, whose shot was horrendously off target.

Valencia continued its disappointing form since the New Year, conceding an 88th minute equalizer to squander two points in their 2-2 draw with Racing Santander.

Racing – fourth from last in the league – took an unlikely lead in the opening two minutes with a goal by Adrian Gonzalez, but Aritz Aduriz second-half brace put Valencia ahead. Los Che could not hold the score however, as Bernardo Espinosa drew the home side level two minutes from time.

Valencia has now secured only three points from a possible dozen since the start of 2012.

Confident Getafe deflated Levante 2-1 for their fourth win in their last six La Liga matches. The visitors from Madrid went ahead just after the half-hour mark, as Dani Guiza was able to finish the rebound from his own shot. Getafe grabbed their second in the 82nd, when Diego Castro fired home after Gustavo Munua saved another strike by Guiza. Levante converted a penalty in stoppage time to complete the scoring.

Espanyol moved even with Levante for fourth place in the league with a gritty 1-0 win over Real Mallorca at the Estadi Cornella – El Prat. Vladimir Weiss provided the game’s only goal in the 18th minute, after Mallorca keeper Dudu Aouate collided with one of his own defenders, allowing the Slovakian to strike an easy goal. Aouate’s day worsened two minutes after the break, when he was sent off for bringing down Rui Fonte just outside the area.

A hat-trick by Fernando Llorente proved crucial for Athletic Bilbao, as Los Leones bested Rayo Vallecano 3-2 at Vallecas. The back and forth game saw Bilbao trailing after an 11th minute goal by Michu. The away team did not wait to equalize, with a header by Llorente finding the back of the net only five minutes after going behind. The big Spaniard gave his side the lead in the 23rd, when he chest-controlled a long ball, turned Mikel Labaka and fired beautifully into the far corner. The hosts equalized a mere three minutes later with a rebound goal from Javi Arribas, but Llorente completed his man of the match performance with a 68th minute winner.

A scorching start – with three goals in the first 19 minutes – proved decisive for Malaga in defeating Sevilla at La Rosaleda.

Weligton headed Malaga in front in the seventh, and Seba Fernandez re-established their lead after Antonio Luna equalized for Sevilla.

Despite the exciting early play, the game was defined by the bad temperament of the players, with 12 yellow cards – five for Malaga and seven for Sevilla – and a red card in the 79th for Alarcon Isco, who had been booked just five minutes earlier.

Atletico Madrid continued their renaissance under new manager Diego Simeone by besting Osasuna 1-0 at the Reyno de Navarra. The visitors snatched the only goal of the game five minutes before the break when Diego Godin finished from close range.

Elsewhere in Spain, Granada bested Real Betis 2-1, and Real Sociedad thrashed Sporting Gijon 5-1, fueled by a brace by David Zurutuza in the first three minutes.


Spanish La Liga: Week 18 Roundup

| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

There were tight matches at the top of the Spanish La Liga in Week 18, with Barcelona and Real Madrid narrowly escaping with three points following hard fought bouts.

Madrid faced a defensively resilient Mallorca side in front of 20,000 fans at the Iberostar Estadi on January 14. After a 39th minute goal on a glancing header by Tomer Hemed, the Madridistas found themselves in the unfamiliar position of playing from behind. Los Blancos controlled possession for the majority of the game (73 percent), but beyond a Sergio Ramos header that struck the post, they found it challenging to break down the stingy Balearic Island side.

Los Merengues were able to ultimately equalize in the 72nd minute. Mesut Ozil found Gonzalo Higuain behind the defense on the left side of the box, after which the Argentine calmly chipped the ball over the outstretched arms of Mallorca keeper Dudu Aouate. After getting their first taste of goal, the visitors went in search of a winner, and Cristiano Ronaldo nearly provided one with a thunderous long-range strike that jolted the crossbar. Madrid concluded their comeback six minutes from time, when Spanish starlet Jose Maria Callejon blasted a rebound that fell to his feet passed the out of place Aouate.

Reigning champions Barcelona also met stiff competition at the Camp Nou in the form of Real Betis. The Blaugrana were ahead 2-0 by the 12th minute thanks to an open netter by Xavi and signature Barcelona ball movement leading to an easy goal for Lionel Messi. Andres Iniesta stormed at the Betis defense and found Alexis Sanchez on the left wing. Sanchez delivered a pinpoint pass across the box to the 2011 FIFA Ballon d’Or winner, whose touch sent the ball racing passed Betis keeper Castro.

The Verdiblancos fought back to equalize with strikes by Ruben Castro and Roque Santa Cruz – the first goals surrendered by Barcelona at home all season – but the Seville-based club was undone by a second yellow card issued to Mario in the 70th. Sanchez restored the lead by displaying his powerful right foot on a brilliant strike in the 75th, which Castro got a hand to but was unable to keep out of his net.  Barca struck four on a penalty by Messi four minutes from time.

Valencia was stunned by 14th place Real Sociedad at the Mestalla, where they had previously lost only once thus far this campaign. Despite dominating most statistical categories, the home side was thwarted by a 56th minute goal by Antoine Griezmann.

Elsewhere in Spain, Atletico Madrid added to the misery of Villarreal with a 3-0 thrashing at the Vicente Calderon. A brace by Radamel Falcao and an 80th minute goal by Diego further buried the sinking yellow submarine, now placed second from the bottom.

Sporting Gijon topped Malaga 2-1 in thrilling fashion. After Ruud van Nistelrooy equalized for Malaga in the 87th minute, Oscar Trejo gave Gijon the victory in the 90th.

Osasuna’s 11-game unbeaten run at home came to an end, as Los Rojillos were bested by Racing Santander 2-0.

Athletic Bilbao thrashed fourth place Levante 3-0 with a brilliant first half that left them two goals ahead at the break.

Granada was beaten by Rayo Vallecano 2-1, and Sevilla and Espanyol played to a scoreless draw.

Bottom dwellers Real Zaragoza, who had managed only 10 points before the weekend, were unfortunate not to secure their third win of the season after an own goal by Javier Paredes 11 minutes from time gave Getafe the 1-1 draw.