MADRID - Arjen Robben's superb run and curled shot gave Real Madrid a 1-0 win over Villarreal on Sunday, moving the champions up to third in the Primera Liga. Sevilla dropped to fourth after conceding a dramatic late equaliser in a 1-1 draw with bottom club Osasuna and Barcelona's 3-1 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday means the Catalans are 11 points clear at the top. Dutch winger Robben was rampant throughout at the Bernabeu, receiving a standing ovation when he was replaced near the end, and he nearly opened the scoring on 12 minutes when his deflected shot looped onto the top of the crossbar. He broke the deadlock with just over half an hour gone, charging in from the right, evading several challenges and curling the ball high past Diego Lopez into the top-left corner. The result leaves Real 12 points behind Barcelona, who top the standings with 44 points from 17 matches. Valencia, who beat Atletico Madrid 3-1 on Saturday, are in second on 33, Real have 32 points in third, the same as Sevilla, and Atletico are on 30 in fifth. Deportivo Coruna moved above Villarreal into sixth thanks to Sunday's 2-1 win over Getafe, level on points with Atletico. In Valencia and Villarreal, Real have beaten two of their closest rivals in their last two league games and with key players including defender Pepe and midfielder Wesley Sneijder back from injury looked a much more effective unit. "Little by little we are changing some things around and that should help us to keep improving," coach Juande Ramos said at a news conference. "We could have scored more tonight but the team tired towards the end because there are many players who have not played for a some time." REFLEX EFFORT Real's new signings, Dutch striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar and French midfielder Lassana Diarra, both started the match with Gonzalo Higuain and Guti unavailable. Huntelaar should have doubled Real's lead when Sergio Ramos picked him out at the far post but his shot was well saved and the former Ajax forward was replaced 10 minutes after the break. Ramos brought on Rafael van der Vaart for Diarra as Villarreal pressed for an equaliser and Iker Casillas produced a couple of acrobatic saves, including a fine reflex effort from Giuseppe Rossi's close-range header, to keep Real's lead intact. "Madrid were good until they got the goal and then we gained control of the ball and at times looked like the home side," Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini told reporters. "The difference was that they scored." In Seville, Osasuna kept the home side at bay until shortly after halftime when Navas collected a deep cross on the edge of the area and drove the ball low into the far corner. Sevilla looked to be cruising to victory but Osasuna's Uruguayan striker Walter Pandiani swung a speculative leg at Masoud Shojaei's shot in the 90th minute to send the ball past Andres Palop. Frederic Kanoute almost snatched the three points for Sevilla in added time but his stabbed effort bounced up off the knee of keeper Roberto Fernandez onto the bar and away. In other matches on Sunday, former Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez had a winning start as Almeria boss when his side won 1-0 at home to Real Betis, while struggling Recreativo Huelva grabbed a precious 3-1 win over Numancia.
4 January 2009
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