MADRID, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres scored his first ever goal against Real Madrid but it was not enough to earn more than a 1-1 draw against their city rivals at the Calderon on Saturday.
A dominant Atletico looked to be heading for a first home victory in nearly eight years against their neighbours when the Spain international put them in front with a coolly taken strike in the 11th minute.
But they were unable to press home their advantage and paid the price when Real's Argentine teenage striker Gonzalo Higuain equalised just after the hour with his first goal since joining the club from River Plate in the January transfer window.
Real were reduced to 10 men for the final six minutes when their out-of-sorts Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro was sent off after picking up a second yellow card, but they weathered a late storm to hold on for the point.
The result meant Real moved up to third place, one point ahead of Valencia and three behind leaders Barcelona who play their respective matches on Sunday.
Atletico remain fifth, two points behind Valencia and two ahead of Real Zaragoza.
'We were by far the better side and it's a shame,' said Atletico coach Javier Aguirre. 'There are times when you play worse and win the game, but in football some things can't be explained.
'If it was like science it would be less fun and less controversial.'
Atletico were rewarded for an impressive high-tempo start when skipper Torres broke his duck against Real with a classy strike.
He steered an angled shot past goalkeeper Iker Casillas after he had pulled down a cross from winger Luciano Galletti a metre inside the area.
Atletico looked to have doubled their lead when Colombian centre-back Luis Perea poked into the net from close range after a shot spun off the post, but the referee appeared to rule the goal out for offside.
They would have gone into the break 2-0 up had it not been for a great save from Casillas, who got a hand to a shot from Galletti after the Argentine winger was put clear by Torres.
With leading striker Ruud van Nistelrooy pulling out at the last minute because of injury, Real coach Fabio Capello threw on the out-of-favour Antonio Cassano in the second half for the ineffective Jose Antonio Reyes.
The Italian, who had not featured in the league since falling out with Capello in October, played a decisive role in Real's equaliser when he threaded a superb pass through the Atletico back four just after the hour.
Higuain raced clear, rode a challenge and clipped the ball over keeper Leo Franco to score his first goal for the club.
Atletico laid siege to the Real area in the final minutes, but the visitors managed to hold on thanks to several more outstanding saves from Casillas.
In the build-up to the match a number of cars belonging to the media, which were parked alongside the stadium, were destroyed by congregating fans.
Earlier, relegation-threatened Real Sociedad slumped to a sixth defeat in seven games when they lost 1-0 at home to Deportivo Coruna, former Atletico striker Angel Arizmendi scoring the winner just before the half hour.
The Basque side's chances of remaining in the top flight look increasingly slim as they remain 11 points adrift of safety with all their immediate rivals yet to play.