Tue, Nov 27, 2007 - Page 19 News List

LFP: Villarreal miss out on top spot

AFP , MADRID

Villarreal missed the chance to knock Real Madrid off the top of the Spanish championship following a 1-1 draw with Almeria on Sunday.

Real's 1-1 draw with Murcia on Saturday meant Villarreal had the opportunity to replace them at the summit and they took a 13th minute lead through Turkish international Nihat.

However Alvaro Negredo leveled for Almeria after 52 minutes and Villarreal now sit second a point behind Real. Barcelona are two points further back in third after crushing Recreativo Huelva 3-0 on Sunday.

"We all wanted to lead the table but you have to deliver on the pitch," Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini said. "We had to win and we weren't capable of doing that today. Nevertheless it is a good point and we are still on the up."

Valencia could have gone two points behind the leaders themselves but instead they dropped to sixth after a 1-0 reverse at Racing Santander.

Jorge Lopez scored the winner for Santander on 70 minutes as the hosts kept another clean sheet -- they have only conceded nine goals all season.

Dutch coach Ronald Koeman must now pick his troops up for tomorrow's crucial Champions League home match against Schalke 04.

Valencia sit bottom of their group and last season's quarter-finalists have just two games to claw their way into the knockout phase.

Even without seven-goal top-scorer Giuseppe Rossi, still sidelined with a knee injury, Villarreal are potent in front of goal and Nihat, who turned 28 on Friday, celebrated his birthday with his fifth goal of the season.

Negredo pegged the hosts back and Villarreal had to settle for their first draw of the season.

Whether Villarreal, Champions League semi-finalists two seasons ago, are a flash in the pan or realistic title contenders remains to be seen but it is worth noting that they have already beaten Sevilla, Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid this season.

With seasoned Frenchman Robert Pires and Spanish international Marcos Senna pulling the strings in midfield and Pascal Cygan, formerly of Arsenal, Villarreal look a tough proposition.

Espanyol are another surprise team this season and a 2-1 win at Osasuna on Sunday saw them jump to fourth. Espanyol are now only two points behind their Catalan rivals Barcelona.

Elsewhere Atletico Madrid won a thrilling encounter with Valladolid 4-3 on Sunday that underlined their attacking prowess but exposed their defensive frailties.

Portuguese international Maniche scored after just three minutes but Victor equalized for Valladolid on 40 minutes and the goalscoring did not end there with captain Maxi Rodriguez grabbing a brace after Atletico had twice gone behind.

Pedro Lopez then headed into his own goal in the final seconds as Atletico took the points. Atletico's next match is at home to Scottish side Aberdeen in Thursday's UEFA Cup group match.

"It was a crazy game," Atletico coach Javier Aguirre said. "This season my team have a huge desire to win and you can see that. It is not normal to concede and score so many goals but the most important thing is that we continue collecting points."

It was not the only goal frenzy with bottom side Levante coming from two goals down to defeat Real Betis 4-3.

For Levante it was only their second win of the season and the loss heaps pressure on embattled Betis coach Hector Cuper.

In Sunday's late match Real Zaragoza and Getafe shared a 1-1 draw.

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