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Sunday, January 27, 2008
La Liga: Real Madrid stretch lead over Barcelona

MADRID, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Barcelona's title hopes were dealt a crushing blow on Sunday as Athletic Bilbao took a point off them at the Estadio San Mamés while Real Madrid beat Villarreal.

Real Madrid clinched a thrilling win thanks to Wesley Sneijder's precise left footed volley from ten yards out in the 77th minute.

It came just a minute after Villarreal had drawn level for the second time in the game, through defender Joan Capdevila.

Madrid took the lead with just nine minutes on the clock, Robinho sweeping home from Guti's superb pass.

Giuseppe Rossi fired in a curling left-footed drive from the edge of the area after escaping the attentions of Fabio Cannavaro within six minutes to equalise.

Robinho put Madrid ahead again on 53 minutes and Madrid seemed to be cruising again before Capdevila struck.

But Dutch international Sneijder burst into the box after coming on as a substitute to restore Madrid's lead and give them a nine-point advantage over their main title rivals Barca.

Bojan Krkic had given Barcelona a 35th minute lead at Althletic Bilbao with a precise left-footed finish but they failed to kill off the game, and finished hanging on for the final whistle after Lilian Thuram turned the ball into his own net 11 minutes from time.

Bilbao huffed and puffed to little effect in San Mames and when they did get a clear sight of goal in the first half striker Aritz Aduriz hoisted his shot over the bar with only Victor Valdes to beat.

In the 35th minute, Barca counter-attacked, Deco laid the ball out wide for Krkic and the 17-year-old scored low in the far corner.

Barca were far from impressive and their grip on the game was broken in the 79th minute when French defender Thuram turned a low cross past Valdes, under pressure from Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente on a counter-attack.

Deportivo La Coruna were on course for only their second home win of the season when defender Alberto Lopo scrambled the ball in at a corner in the seventh minute against Valladolid.

Striker Xisco broke away to double the lead in the 46th and Mexican Andres Guardado made it three in the 72nd.

Valladolid had goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo sent off two minutes later but striker Victor pulled a goal back for the visitors in the 83rd.

Bottom club Levante had to come from behind for their first away win of the season after striker Ivan Alonso flicked Murcia in front in the 46th minute.

Brazilian defender Alvaro headed them level from a corner in the 73rd, and striker Riga scored from the penalty spot in the 83rd after Murcia's Alvaro Mejia had been sent off.

Levante's Serbian goalkeeper Vladan Kujovic fumbled a corner into his own net in the 89th, but midfielder Pedro Leon floated a last gap winner in off the far post.

Recreativo Huelva made it six games without a win and were booed off after losing at home to Getafe.

Getafe's Uruguayan midfielder Juan Albin powered into the area and scored after three minutes but Recre levelled through Javier Camunas at the end of a counter-attack in the 16th.

Midfielder Esteban Granero restored Getafe's lead direct from a free kick in the 44th and striker Manu del Moral headed the third in the 91st.

Earlier, Atletico Madrid and Espanyol both lost as their vague pretensions of challenging for the title were knocked back even further.

Fourth-placed Atletico, on 37 points, fell to a goal from Venezuela striker Juan Arango at Real Mallorca, making it three defeats in a week for Javier Aguirre's side.

Espanyol, a point back in fifth, lost 2-1 at home to Real Betis for their third consecutive league defeat.

They stayed three points ahead of sixth-placed Racing Santander who scrambled a 2-2 draw at home to Real Zaragoza, thanks to a last-minute goal from striker Mohamed Tchite.

Elsewhere, problems mounted for under-fire coach Ronald Koeman as Valencia made it nine games without a win, losing 1-0 at home to promoted Almeria.

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