Zidane poaches victory for Real

Racing Santander 2 - Real Madrid 3
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The Independent Football

Zinedine Zidane spared Real Madrid's blushes as he scored a winner deep into injury-time that allowed them to snatch victory and claw back two points on the leaders Barcelona in La Liga.

Zinedine Zidane spared Real Madrid's blushes as he scored a winner deep into injury-time that allowed them to snatch victory and claw back two points on the leaders Barcelona in La Liga.

Zidane nodded in at close range from a corner three minutes into added time to give Real their first win at struggling Racing in five years on Saturday and allow his side to take advantage of Barcelona's 1-1 draw at home to Valencia and move to within 10 points of the Catalan side at the top of the table.

Michael Owen once again underlined his powerful case for a place in Real's starting line-up with a brave header in the first half to take his tally for the season to six league goals.

"I'm just trying to do my best whether I play or am on the bench," the former Liverpool striker said after the game. "I'll always be happy when I score and do my bit to help the team."

Owen's England team-mate David Beckham, however, was confined to bench duty for the first time since Mariano Garcia Remon has been in charge of the team.

Garcia Remon claimed that he had made the England captain a substitute because a minor hamstring problem had prevented Beckham from training properly during the week, but the move smacked of desperation from a man who has been under severe pressure because of the continued failure of the side to live up to its galactico billing.

The change had little effect, however, as his side were completely outclassed in the first half-hour, with Racing taking charge of the midfield and their forward combination of Javi Guerrero and the Israeli international Yossi Benayoun tormenting the Real defence.

Guerrero had a strong penalty appeal turned down on 16 minutes when he nutmegged Walter Samuel with a clever back-heel and the Argentinian defender threw his arm across to prevent the striker making any further progress.

But eight minutes later the home side got a deserved reward for their early domination when Benayoun looped a header past Iker Casillas after the Real defence had failed to deal with a Fernando Moran free-kick.

The setback stung Real into action and they eventually managed their first shot on goal just after the half hour when Beckham's stand-in, the former youth team player Javi Garcia, fired a long-range drive wide of the post.

Four minutes later Owen, who had received just one pass until then, put Real back on level terms when he climbed above three defenders to head in at the far post after Garcia had nodded on a Luis Figo corner.

Racing continued to dominate and restored their lead six minutes into the second half when Guerrero glided past Zidane to slot home a fine cross from the outstanding Benayoun.

Nevertheless, Real managed to draw level once more in another isolated attack. This time Raul produced a trademark poacher's finish in the six-yard box after Samuel had headed a Figo cross back across the area.

Owen, who was by far and away Real's most impressive player, had the ball in the net again 18 minutes from time when he beat the offside trap and volleyed home from 15 yards out, but the England striker was rightly penalised for controlling the ball with his hand.

In a breathless final quarter, the two sides traded attacks as they went in search of victory and Casillas had to produce a fantastic diving save to push a stinging shot from Medhi Nafti over the bar. However, it was Real who eventually made off with all three points thanks to Zidane's late goal.

The Frenchman headed in from five yards out after the out-of-favour Fernando Morientes, who had replaced Owen in the last minute of normal time, nodded a Figo corner back towards the near post as the final whistle was about to be blown.

Goals: Benayoun (24) 1-0; Owen (36)1-1; Guerrero (51) 2-1; Raul (61) 2-2; Zidane (90) 2-3.

Racing Santander (4-4-2): Aouate; Lopez, Oriol (Juanma, 70), Moraton, Bertin; Regueiro (Alvarez, 82), Moran, Anderson, Nafti (Parri, 75); Benayoun, Guerrero. Substitutes not used: Mauro (gk), Arizmendi, Marques, Aganzo.

Real Madrid (4-4-2): Casillas; Salgado, Helguera, Samuel, Bravo; Figo, Guti, Garcia (Celades, 77), Zidane; Raul (Pavon, 90), Owen (Morientes, 89). Substitutes not used: Cesar (gk), Roberto Carlos, Beckham. Solari.

Referee: M Fernandez.

Man of the match: Benayoun.

Attendance: 17, 383.