MADRID - Late goals from Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi gave Primera Liga leaders Barcelona a 2-0 win over Real Madrid at the Nou Camp on Saturday, condemning Juande Ramos to defeat on his league debut as coach of the champions. A dominant Barca, who stretched their advantage over their arch rivals to 12 points, mounted waves of attacks on the Real goal and finally found the net in the 83rd minute when Eto'o, who earlier missed a penalty, bundled the ball over the line. As Real pushed forward for an equaliser, Barcelona striker Thierry Henry burst clear and picked out Messi on the left. The Argentina forward lifted the ball over Iker Casillas and Fabio Cannavaro's desperate lunge was too late to prevent the goal. Barcelona top the table with 38 points from 15 matches, eight ahead of Valencia who beat Espanyol 2-1 earlier on Saturday. Villarreal, who play at fourth-placed Sevilla on Sunday, are third on 29 points with Real fifth on 26. TOUGH CHALLENGE The final score was harsh on Real, who battled bravely in the sodden conditions to hold the home side at bay. However, Ramos and his injury-hit squad now face a tough challenge to catch Barca following the former Sevilla and Tottenham Hotspur coach's surprise appointment to replace Bernd Schuster on Tuesday. The Catalans dominated the opening stages of the first of this season's "Clasicos". Messi, Henry and Yaya Toure all went close to scoring but Real held firm largely thanks to some solid defending from Cannavaro and Christoph Metzelder. After surviving the early onslaught, Real created chances of their own. Royston Drenthe should have scored when through on goal but Victor Valdes saved superbly with his legs and Wesley Sneijder blazed a shot over the bar. Sneijder has only just returned from injury, one of a long list of Real absentees, but had to be replaced before the break by reserve player Miguel Palanca. STUNNING SAVE With the sides still locked at 0-0, Barca were awarded a penalty in the 68th minute after Michel Salgado brought down Sergio Busquets but Casillas pulled off a stunning save. Eto'o drove the ball hard to the keeper's left but the Spain international leaped to divert the ball away to safety at full stretch. Seconds later, he denied the Cameroon international again, beating away a shot from the edge of the box. In Saturday's earlier match, winger Vicente came off the bench to score the winner as Valencia fought back from a goal down to beat 10-man Espanyol 2-1. Roman Martinez had given Espanyol the lead with just under half an hour gone at the Mestalla when his long-range shot deflected off David Albelda and flew past Valencia goalkeeper Renan into the net. Espanyol midfielder Francisco Rufete was harshly dismissed for a second handball 11 minutes later and Valencia equalised midway through the second period when Raul Albiol volleyed in from a corner. Vicente replaced Juan Mata with about a quarter of an hour left and was on hand to finish a flowing move and give his side the three points. Espanyol remain in the relegation zone with 13 points from 15 matches.
13 December 2008
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