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By ESPN Staff
Apr 27, 2008

La Liga: Villarreal triumph puts Madrid title on hold

MADRID, April 27 (Reuters) - Real Madrid crushed Athletic Bilbao 3-0 at the Bernabeu on Sunday to edge closer to the Spanish title but Villarreal's 1-0 victory at Real Betis put their celebrations on hold for at least another week.

Real's victory means that with four games left to play they remain 10 points clear of Villarreal at the top of the table on 75 points and will claim their 31st league title if they win next week's match at Osasuna.

Third-placed Barcelona, who are four points behind Villarreal after their 2-0 loss at Deportivo Coruna on Saturday, can now only hope to dispute second place with Villarreal.

Argentine striker Javier Saviola paved the way for Real's victory when he took advantage of a rare appearance in the starting line-up to poke home after Bilbao keeper Armando had spilled a shot from Robinho in the 13th minute.

Keeper Iker Casillas halted a Bilbao comeback when he produced a great one-handed stop to save a Joseba Garmendia penalty given after Real defender Gabriel Heinze had bundled into Fernando Llorente in the area late in the first half.

Real dominated after the break and gained a deserved second when Arjen Robben steered home from close range after a superb pass from Gonzalo Higuain and the Argentine wrapped up the win with a classy curling strike of his own two minutes later.

Villarreal clinched their win over a revived Real Betis side thanks to a breathtaking goal from midfielder Marcos Senna.

The Spain international fired the ball into the top corner from a metre inside the Betis half after spotting keeper Casto off his line in the 16th minute.

Atletico Madrid remain in fourth spot, six points behind Barca, after drawing 1-1 at Getafe, while Racing Santander lost ground in the hunt for the final Champions League place after slumping to a 3-1 defeat at Real Mallorca.

Cash-strapped Levante were relegated from the top flight when they slipped to a 2-0 defeat at Recreativo Huelva.

The Valencia-based side's 23rd defeat of the season left them five points behind Real Murcia at the bottom of the table and 15 points behind Osasuna, who occupy the last place above the drop zone.

The game had been in doubt up until Saturday because players had threatened strike action over payments owed to them by the cash-strapped club, but it went ahead after they received guarantees they would be paid.

Real Zaragoza dropped into the relegation places after drawing 1-1 at Espanyol and are two points behind Osasuna and Recreativo in the standings.

There was better news for Levante's city rivals Valencia who got off to a winning start under new coach Voro and moved four points clear of the relegation zone after a 3-0 victory at home to 10-man Osasuna.

Striker David Villa netted a controversial penalty in the first half which resulted in the sending off of Osasuna keeper Ricardo and then provided the assist for Juan Mata to score the second after the break.

Winger Joaquin wrapped up with a third that earned Valencia their first points after four straight defeats under previous boss Ronald Koeman who was sacked at the start of the week.