Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - Page 18 News List

Levante beat Villarreal to look down on Real, Barca

SURPRISE LEADERS:Undefeated Levante had little trouble adding stale Villarreal to their list of victims that includes Real Madrid and big-spending Malaga

AP, BARCELONA, SPAIN

Valencia’s Roberto Soldado, rear, scores past Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz in their La Liga match at the Estadio Mestalla in Valencia, Spain, on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Levante UD moved to the top of the La Liga standings for the first time ever after beating Villarreal 3-0 for their sixth consecutive win on Sunday.

The modest club, who have the smallest budget in Spain’s top division, extended their record start to move one point ahead of Real Madrid and two points ahead of defending champions Barcelona.

Forward Juanlu Gomez scored twice before halftime at El Madrigal and striker Arouna Kone added another after the restart as Levante repeatedly caught Villarreal flatfooted on the counterattack.

Defender Sergio Ballesteros cleared Giuseppe Rossi’s late shot off his line to ensure Levante kept a fifth clean sheet of the season.

Undefeated Levante, who two seasons ago were playing in the second division, had little trouble adding lackluster Villarreal to their list of victims that includes Madrid and big-spending Malaga.

“This team continues to grow and to demonstrate that it believes in what it does, something which is key to competing at this level,” said manager Juan Ignacio Martinez, who had never coached in Spain’s top division until joining Levante this summer. “Being leaders of a league with so many big teams is something very special. Even so, we must keep working with our feet firmly on the ground and remember that the season is very long.”

Earlier, Roberto Soldado’s late goal salvaged a 1-1 draw for Valencia against Athletic Bilbao, while Atletico Madrid drew 1-1 with RCD Mallorca.

After an evenly matched first half with both teams hitting the post, Iker Muniain scored Bilbao’s 72nd-minute opener when he deftly dribbled across the edge of the area before shooting powerfully into the right corner of the net.

Bilbao appeared set to record their third straight league win before Soldado reached Ever Banega’s pass, beat goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz with one touch and rolled home the equalizer in the 89th minute for his sixth goal of the season.

“Just when we were playing at our best they scored, but we didn’t give up and we were able to pull out the draw,” Soldado said.

The game saw Valencia midfielder Sergio Canales and Bilbao veteran Carlos Gurpegi both helped off the pitch with leg injuries.

At the Vicente Calderon, visitors Mallorca went ahead two minutes in through Israel striker Tomer Hemed’s fourth spot-kick in the last three matches.

Radamel Falcao pulled Atletico even with a penalty of his own in the 42nd minute after he was fouled in the area to end a three-game scoring drought for his team in the league.

“It wasn’t in our plans to draw today,” said Atletico coach Gregorio Manzano, whose team extended their winless streak to four league games. “It was a tough game for us. We were facing a well-organized defense that left us very few spaces.”

It was Mallorca’s second consecutive draw since coach Joaquin Caparros took over following the stormy departure of Michael Laudrup.

Also on Sunday, CA Osasuna beat Real Zaragoza 3-0, Rayo Vallecano de Madrid scored two late goals to down Real Betis Balompie 2-0 and Getafe drew 0-0 at Real Sociedad.

Osasuna needed half an hour to decide the contest at the Estadio Reyno de Navarra.

Raul Garcia set Osasuna on the way to their first win in six games in the 18th minute, before flicking on a throw-in for Juan “Nino” Martinez to finish off nine minutes later.

Iran midfielder Javad Nekounam put the victory beyond doubt in the 30th minute when he headed in Nino’s cross.

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