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Dec 16, 2012

Madrid's title hopes take another blow

Juan Albin's late equalizer struck another blow to Real Madrid's hopes of keeping its Spanish league title as it could only draw 2-2 with Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Sergio Garcia had given the visitors a deserved lead on the half-hour mark but Madrid appeared to be heading for victory as goals form Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Coentrao either side of halftime put the Blancos in front.

However, after missing a host of chances to put the Catalans away, Jose Mourinho's men were punished two minutes from time as Albin turned the ball past Iker Casillas from close range.

The point extends Madrid's unbeaten record at home this season to 12 games but it was left to rue a lackluster first-half performance and a profligate one after the break.

"I have never been in a situation like this, dropping so many points and with a team so far from its objectives," Mourinho said." It's new for me. The league looks impossible to me now, but we have to have the dignity to always try to win."

After a early flurry from the hosts in which Luka Modric should have put them in front as he shot wide when well-positioned inside the area, it was the visitors who posed the greater threat as time and again they exposed Madrid's high defensive line.

Simao pulled a shot wide after getting in behind Alvaro Arbeloa on 15 minutes before Coentrao had to make a last-ditch tackle to prevent Garcia a clear shot on goal moments later.

Modric then sent a long-range effort back off the post, but it was an error from the Croatian that led to the opening goal as he was dispossessed in midfield and Joan Verdu sent Garcia through to score his first goal of the season with a brilliant finish inside Casillas' far post.

As a reflection of how the first half was going, Kiko Casilla was not seriously called into action until six minutes before the break as a wonderful pass from Mesut Ozil released Ronaldo but his low effort was turned behind by the goalkeeper's legs.

However, there was nothing Casilla could do in first-half stoppage time as Sami Khedira's ball in from the right was prodded home from point-blank range by Ronaldo for his 22nd goal of the season.

And the turnaround was complete within two minutes of the restart as Ronaldo turned provider with a lovely reverse ball that freed Coentrao to slide home his first goal for the club.

Mourinho had introduced Angel Di Maria for Modric at halftime and he made a huge contribution to what was a greatly improved second-half performance by the champions, although the Argentinian was at fault as Madrid passed up a number of chances to seal the points.

Casilla made three important stops to deny Arbeloa and Di Maria on two occasions, while Di Maria also saw a deflected effort come crashing off the bar and Ronaldo completely miscued his shot from six yards after being teed up at the end of a wonderful team move.

Substitute Alvaro Morata was also denied by a goal-line clearance by Hector Moreno and eventually Madrid's wastefulness cost them as with two minutes remaining it failed to clear a corner and Albin was on hand to turn in Moreno's knockdown.

Elsewhere, U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra returned from a torn muscle in his left leg, playing the entire match in Racing Santander's 1-0 home loss to Sabadell in Spain's second division.

The defender was injured in the Americans' 2-2 exhibition draw at Russia on Nov. 14, and Santander said a week later that it expected him to miss another six weeks.

Information from Press Association and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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