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By ESPN Staff

Sevilla top La Liga as Barca play in Japan

MADRID, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Sevilla took advantage of Barcelona's absence at the Club World Cup to reclaim top spot in the Primera Liga with a 3-1 win at Recreativo Huelva on Sunday.

Real Madrid bounced back from last week's 2-1 defeat at Sevilla as Ruud van Nistelrooy earned them a 1-0 win at Espanyol with a sharp strike early in the second half.

The visitors held on to inflict a first defeat in 11 matches on Espanyol despite having centre-back Fabio Cannavaro unluckily sent off almost immediately after they took the lead.

Sevilla top the table with 34 points from 15 games, one more than Barca who have a game in hand and two more than Real.

Zaragoza, who lost 1-0 at home to Valencia on Saturday, are a further six points back in fourth, two ahead of Atletico Madrid who host Getafe in Sunday's late match.

Real Sociedad finally chalked up their first victory this season with a thrilling 3-2 success at home to fellow strugglers Gimnastic Tarragona who replaced them at the foot of the table.

The Basque side did it the hard way, though, twice coming from behind to level the game at 2-2 and finally grabbing the points when midfielder Diego Rivas volleyed home a fine cross from Aitor Lopez Rekarte on the hour.

Sevilla took the lead in controversial fashion against Recre when Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano converted a penalty after winger Antonio Puerta appeared to dive in the area.

But Recre were level nine minutes later, midfielder Jesus Vazquez getting between two defenders to head home at the far post after Aitor floated in a cross from the byline.

Sevilla restored their lead 10 minutes before the break with striker Frederic Kanoute reacting quickly to smash home from close range after Luis Fabiano's header hit the far post.

Tricky winger Navas drilled in to make it 3-1 early in the second half after good work by Brazilian wingback Daniel Alves.

Sevilla were reduced to 10 men when centre-back Aitor Ocio was sent off for a second booking a few minutes later but it was not enough to prevent them easing their way to victory.

Real Madrid played little fluent football in the first half but took the lead four minutes into the second period when Van Nistelrooy spun outside a defender and tucked a shot low into the corner after Guti had picked him out in the area.

Cannavaro, who is in contention for Monday's World Player of the Year award, was sent off for picking up a second yellow card moments later for handball, although replays showed the ball had hit his face.

Espanyol laid siege to Real's goal but sharp saves from Iker Casillas and a great last-ditch tackle by Michel Salgado stopped the home side capitalising on their numerical advantage.

Osasuna continued their revival with a crushing 4-1 victory at Villarreal that extended their winning streak to four.