Beckham's sublime touch inspires Real

Numancia 1 - Real Madrid 2

A superbly struck free-kick from David Beckham and some outstanding keeping from Iker Casillas helped Real Madrid on their way to a narrow 2-1 win over
La Liga basement side Numancia and stopped them losing further ground over leaders Barcelona last night.

A superbly struck free-kick from David Beckham and some outstanding keeping from Iker Casillas helped Real Madrid on their way to a narrow 2-1 win over La Liga basement side Numancia and stopped them losing further ground over leaders Barcelona last night.

The England captain broke the deadlock in an evenly balanced game 18 minutes into the second half when he sent a 30-yard free-kick arcing over the wall and viciously swerving away into the far corner beyond the reach of Numancia's flailing goalkeeper Antonio Nuñez. Beckham's spectacular free-kick was his fourth goal of the season.

His England colleague Michael Owen, making a rare start because Ronaldo had rushed back to Brazil to be at the side of his ill brother on the eve of the game, was unable to add to his tally, but he helped secure the victory with a magnificent through-ball for the defender Michel Salgado to score Real's second.

Real had the better of the early possession but it was not until the 10th minute that they managed to create any danger. Luis Figo fired a deflected shot against the base of the post after cutting in between two defenders and Owen sent his follow-up shot over the bar from five yards out.

Although Numancia have the poorest scoring record in the top flight, they gave Real several scares in the following minutes. Striker Luis Tevenet was denied by an outstanding full-stretch save from Iker Casillas in the 18th minute when he fired in a stinging shot from the edge of the area after Juanlu had danced his way through the Real midfield.

Real struggled to contain the lively Numancia forwards and a nervous Helguera conceded a penalty just after the half hour when he climbed all over Miguel Perez as he tried to clear the ball from the area. But Casillas came to the rescue once more when he guessed right and smothered Tevenet's low drive from the spot.

The penalty miss appeared to settle Real and they started to stretch the Numancia defence in the closing minutes of the first half, Figo almost giving them the lead when he skimmed the post with powerful long-range drive.

Owen hit the woodwork in the 49th minute with a cross which landed on top of the bar, but it was not until Beckham delivered his perfectly struck free-kick that Real were finally able to settle a little. Salgado made it 2-0 seven minutes from time when he slotted past Nuñez after powering his way on to Owen's precision pass.

Numancia grabbed a late consolation when the striker Miguel Lopez headed in after a free-kick three minutes from time.

Goals: Beckham (63) 0-1; Salgado (83) 0-2; Lopez (87) 1-2.

Numancia (3-5-2): A Nuñez; Antonio, Palacios (Lee Chun-soo, 82), Molina; Pignol, Tevenet, Sanz, Tarantino, Juanlu (Pineda, 71); Perez, Lopez. Substitutes not used: Juanma (gk), Graff, Ros, M Nuñez, Merino.

Real Madrid (4-4-2): Casillas; Salgado, Samuel, Helguera, Roberto Carlos; Beckham, Gravesen, Figo (Guti, 71), Zidane (Portillo, 85); Raul (Solari, 79), Owen. Substitutes not used: Cesar (gk), Pavon, Bravo, Celades.

Referee: M Hernandez.

Attendance: 9,500.

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