Real Zaragoza’s increasingly desperate fight to avoid relegation from La Liga suffered another setback on Monday when they were beaten 2-0 at home by Real Betis Balompie.
Forward Ruben Castro netted in each half for the visitors in a scrappy game at the Romareda as Zaragoza remained rooted to the bottom of the standings with just 15 points from 23 matches, five behind 19th-placed Sporting de Gijon.
Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the Aragonese club were unable to build on a 2-0 success against RCD Espanyol in their last league outing, which was their first win in 15 games since mid-October.
They have been unsettled by financial problems and protests by supporters against their unpopular president and their victory against Arsenal to win the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1995 is becoming an ever-more distant memory.
Seville-based Betis, who climbed to 12th on 29 points, took the lead four minutes before halftime when Castro stroked a superb half volley into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area.
The 30-year-old Canary Islander grabbed his second in the 68th minute when he followed up a Jorge Molina effort to slide the ball into the empty net.
Zaragoza fans began to drain away from the already half-empty stadium well before the final whistle and those left in the stands greeted the end of the game with disgruntled whistling.
? Chinese Soccer
China’s Shanghai Shenhua soccer club is poised to sign French striker Mathieu Manset for a six-month, 900,000 euro (US$1.2 million) contract, Chinese state media said yesterday, the latest foreign player to join the team.
The deal, expected to be signed soon, would see Manset play alongside French striker Nicolas Anelka, who arrived in China last week to play for Shenhua — the most high-profile foreign soccer player ever to sign for the Chinese league.
Manset, 22, is currently on the roster of Championship club Reading and will reportedly be loaned off to Shenhua for six months.
The short-term contract is designed to give Manset a chance to play in the Premier League — the top of the British soccer league system — next season, the Shanghai Daily newspaper quoted a Shenhua official as saying.
The Shanghai club declined to comment yesterday.
Shenhua has already signed up four other foreign players, including former Chelsea striker Anelka.
The others are Australian Joel Griffiths, Brazilian Moises Moura Pinheiro and Serbian national Mario Bozic, according to Shenhua.
Anelka has also expressed hopes that his former teammate, Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, would join him at Shenhua, but he said it would be up to management. Shenhua has confirmed it is in talks with Drogba.
? Montpellier Herault
Put a beard on avuncular and rotund Montpellier Herault president Louis Nicollin and he could easily be mistaken for Santa Claus.
Sadly for fans of the high-flying Ligue 1 club, Nicollin refuses to dream his side can upset the odds and win their first French title, stating: “I don’t believe in Santa Claus,” when asked about the chances of a team that finished down in 14th last term.
However, on Sunday’s evidence, Montpellier really can pull off the impossible after they outplayed big-spending leaders Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) for long spells before coming away from the capital with a 2-2 draw that left them a point behind in second place.