Real on verge of title after late drama
MADRID, June 9 (Reuters) - Real Madrid were left on the verge of winning the Spanish title on Saturday after staging yet another dramatic comeback to grab a 2-2 draw at Real Zaragoza while Barcelona surrendered a lead to draw 2-2 with Espanyol.
Real's title hopes looked to have gone up in smoke as they trailed Zaragoza 2-1 with just over a minute to go, while Barca led 2-1 at home against city rivals Espanyol.
But a late scrambled goal from Ruud van Nistelrooy earned Real their 2-2 draw and at almost exactly the same moment, Raul Tamudo scored his second to equalise against Barcelona.
The results mean that Real will win their first league title in four years if they beat mid-table Real Mallorca at home in the final game of the season next weekend.
With one game left to play Real and Barcelona are both on 73 points, but the nine-times European champions lead because of their better head-to-head record. Sevilla are two points behind on 71.
Juande Ramos's side were held 0-0 at Real Mallorca, but still have an outside chance of taking the title if they win their final match at home to Villarreal and both Barca and Real slip up.
If all three sides finish level on points Real will take the title, if Real and Sevilla have the same total then the Andalucians will be champions and if Barca and Sevilla are tied at the top then the Catalans will win through.
'It was a mad night, it was unbelievable with all those goals coming at the same time,' said Van Nistelrooy. 'But this side has shown it has got great spirit.'
In an evening of high drama, Real drew first blood when Barcelona fell behind after Tamudo stroked the ball into the top corner following a deft through pass from Ivan de la Pena on the half hour.
But at almost exactly the same moment, Real went 1-0 down to Zaragoza, Argentine striker Diego Milito smashing home from the penalty spot after Ivan Helguera had handled the ball.
Barca equalised when Lionel Messi emulated Diego Maradona's famous 'hand of god' goal just before halftime, launching himself at a cross and using his hand to steer the ball past Espanyol keeper Carlos Kameni.
Messi struck again early in the second half, this time with a legitimate goal, sweeping the ball home after a neat turn and pass from Deco.
Van Nistelrooy equalised for Real at almost the same time, but their title hopes appeared to have unravelled when Milito fired under Iker Casillas after a virtuoso run from Pablo Aimar.
Real were still behind in the title race when Van Nistelrooy scored his 25th goal of the season, poking home from a metre with a minute to go, but there was still one last twist to come.
A shaky-looking Barca back four left Tamudo free down the right after misjudging the offside trap and the Espanyol striker drilled a low angled shot past Victor Valdes to earn his side the 2-2 draw that put Real back on top.
On hearing of the goal in Barcelona, an ecstatic Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon ran down on to the pitch at La Romareda and gave a lap of honour to salute the travelling Real fans.
'It is going to be very difficult to digest this result,' said Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard. 'We missed a great chance, but we have to keep fighting while it is still mathematically possible. Tonight could have been so different.'