Football: Real relish a night of bliss

Real Madrid 2 Barcelona 0
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The most eagerly awaited showdown of the Spanish League season went Real Madrid's way on Saturday. Bobby Robson's Barcelona had more chances on the night but missed them all, allowing the majority of a 106,000 crowd to celebrate long into the night thanks to a goal in each half from their Slav strike force, Predrag Mijatovic and the predatory Davor Suker.

Real now have 38 points from 16 games, four more than their great Catalan rivals and two ahead of second-placed Deportivo La Coruna, with only one game to go before the league takes a winter break.

Real prevailed after surviving some heavy Barcelona pressure in which the visitors twice hit the woodwork and their young Brazilian striker, Ronaldo, missed an open goal. "Tactically we played a perfect match," the Real coach, Fabio Capello, said.

The game opened with chances at both ends as Real's Raul lobbed wide after being put through by Mijatovic with the goalkeeper Vitor Baia stranded. Moments later Barcelona's Miguel Angel Nadal rose unmarked at a corner only to see his header cleared off the line by Victor. The 20-year-old Victor, who has quietly found himself a place in the Real line-up, played a superb game and was again on hand to save the day after Clarence Seedorf nearly scored an own goal from a corner.

Real's first goal came after 24 minutes when Roberto Carlos curled in a free-kick from the left and Suker, the wily Croat international, appeared at the far post to prod the ball in after a dreadful mix-up in the Barcelona defence, with Vitor Baia hesitant and unable to claim the cross.

"I've always scored goals against Barcelona, and I hope the trend continues," Suker, the former Seville striker, said.

Real went further ahead three minutes after the break when Seedorf put Predrag Mijatovic in with a cleverly flighted pass and the Montenegrin made no mistake, lifting the ball over Vitor Baia.

Real were forced back from then on and Laurent Blanc headed wide after slipping his marker to meet a free-kick from Gheorghe Popescu, the former Spurs player. Then Miguel Angel Nadal hit the bar from another set-piece, and Ronaldo was unable to head in an apparently easy rebound chance.

Robson, who brought on the striker Juan Pizzi and the midfielder Ivan de la Pena in an effort to save the game, said afterwards that he thought the rebound had caught Ronaldo by surprise. Midway through the second half Real again had the woodwork to thank, after Ronaldo hit a post with a spectacular overhead kick.

That was the last serious alarm for the home side, who defended well throughout, with Ronaldo's marker, Fernando Hierro, outstanding.

Top of the Spanish table

P W D L F A Pts

Real Madrid 16 11 5 0 32 12 38

Deportivo 16 10 6 0 24 7 36

Barcelona 16 10 4 2 46 21 34

Real Betis 16 9 5 2 33 14 32

Atletico Madrid 15 8 3 4 26 17 27

Real Sociedad 16 8 3 5 22 19 27

Athletic Bilbao 15 7 4 4 28 22 25

Valladolid 16 7 4 5 20 19 25

Celta Vigo 16 6 5 5 18 17 23

Tenerife 16 6 4 6 26 18 22

Santander 16 5 7 4 16 17 22

Goals: Suker (24) 1-0; Mijatovic (48) 2-0.

Real Madrid: Illgner; Secretario, Hierro (Garcia Calvo, 87), Alkorta, Roberto Carlos, Seedorf, Victor, Redondo, Mijatovic (Sanchis, 84), Raul, Suker (Amavisca, 65).

Barcelona: Vitor Baia; Popescu, Nadal, Blanc, Sergi, Guardiola, Figo (Ivan, 81), Amor (Ferrer, 53), Luis Enrique, Ronaldo, Giovanni (Pizzi, 65).

Man of the match: Hierro.

Attendance: 106,000.