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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Jan 14, 2007

La Liga: Real Madrid move up to third

MADRID, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Real Madrid ended a turbulent week with a morale-boosting 1-0 home win over Real Zaragoza to move within two points of leaders Sevilla in the Primera Liga on Sunday.

Talk of rejuvenating the squad, David Beckham's decision to leave at the end of the season and coach Fabio Capello's decision to discard him dominated the build up to the match.

But a relatively young side rose to the occasion by putting in a spirited performance, with Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy scoring the only goal just before the break.

Real are third on 35 points, level with second-placed Barcelona who were thumped 3-1 at city rivals Espanyol on Saturday but have a game in hand.

Leaders Sevilla lost their 100 percent home record, and the chance to extend their lead at the top, when they lost 2-1 to struggling Real Mallorca.

Mallorca had suffered five straight defeats in all competitions and, against the run of the play, fell behind to a first-half penalty from Mali striker Frederic Kanoute.

But the visitors levelled when Jose Carlos Nunes volleyed in from a corner just after halftime and Argentine Maxi Lopez struck the winner after a mix-up in the home defence.

In-form Valencia are fourth with 33 points following their 3-0 win over local rivals Levante on Saturday.

Two goals from Fernando Torres helped Atletico Madrid climb to fifth on 32 points after a 3-1 win at Celta Vigo.

There was an air of expectation at the Bernabeu as Real's new youngsters Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain took centre stage.

Dropped from the squad by Capello, Beckham could be seen watching from the stands while among the injured absentees were Ronaldo, Antonio Cassano and Roberto Carlos.

Defenders Michel Salgado and Sergio Ramos were suspended but none of them seemed to be missed as Real dominated from the start.

The team was unrecognisable from the one that tamely capitulated to Deportivo Coruna and Recreativo Huelva in their last two league outings, playing with pace and aggression.

Raul limped off with a muscle injury after 15 minutes to be replaced by Robinho but Real continued to carry the game to Zaragoza.

After sustained pressure, the breakthrough finally came five minutes before halftime when Higuain controlled Robinho's deep cross and fired low across goal for Van Nistelrooy to score.

As Zaragoza, who beat Sevilla last weekend, tried to get back into the game in the second half Real exploited the space.

Substitute Ruben de la Red drew a sharp save from Cesar in a one-on-one after 68 minutes and soon afterwards Robinho broke and shot just wide.

The visitors came closest to scoring when Gerard Pique's header from a corner late on came back off the bar.

Emotions boiled over after the final whistle when Capello twice made a rude gesture towards some fans in the stand as he left the pitch.