Atletico fail to capitalize on Barca loss

POLES APART::While second-placed Atletico were held goalless by Malaga, there was a goalfest in San Sebastian as Real Sociedad and Real Betis Balompie drew 3-3

Reuters, MADRID

Tue, Mar 05, 2013 - Page 18

Atletico Madrid squandered a chance to cut the gap to stuttering La Liga leaders Barcelona to nine points when they were held to a 0-0 draw at fourth-placed Malaga on Sunday.

With two of the meanest defenses in the Spanish top flight on display, goals were always going to be at a premium and neither side were able to seriously trouble the opposing goalkeeper in a tight game at La Rosaleda.

Malaga captain Weligton sent a header narrowly wide with about 15 minutes left and the home side just managed to clear their lines after a scramble in the penalty area in the dying minutes, but both teams appeared content to settle for a draw.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone praised his players for another strong performance after they saw off Sevilla and clinched a place in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday last week.

“After playing an extremely important match four days ago, with a lot of pressure and a significant mental effort, today the team responded with the 90 minutes we needed to remain near the top of the league,” he told a press conference.

“We just lacked the final pass to convert our play, which was very positive for the whole match, into a goal,” added the Argentine, who has transformed the club since taking over midway through last season.

The result left Barca 11 points clear of Atletico with 12 games left after they were beaten 2-1 at third-placed champions Real Madrid on Saturday.

“A draw was a fair result,” Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini told a press conference. “We have secured a point against a great team, who are having a great season. They are second in the league, they are in the Copa final and have a lot of individual quality.”

European qualification hopefuls Real Sociedad and Real Betis Balompie played out an entertaining 3-3 draw in San Sebastian in Sunday’s late kickoff.

The Basques fought back from two goals down to take a 3-2 lead, before Colombian Dorlan Pabon scored his second of the night to level in the 66th minute.

Sociedad are sixth on 41 points, while Betis are one behind in seventh.

RCD Mallorca gave their bid to survive the drop a boost when Israel international striker Tomer Hemed nodded a 94th-minute winner in a 2-1 comeback victory at fellow strugglers Granada.

RCD Espanyol and Real Valladolid drew 0-0 at the Estadio Cornella El-Prat in Barcelona and are 13th and 11th respectively.