- Special Pages
Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa (left) reacts after missing an opportunity to score against Malaga during their Spanish First Division match at La Rosaleda Stadium in Malaga, southern Spain on Sunday. RIGHT: Real Betis’ midfielder Benat Etxebarria (left) fights for the ball with midfielder David Zurutuza of Real Sociedad during their Primera Division match played at Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain.
MADRID: 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 yesterday.
With two of the meanest defences 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 the Rosaleda.
Malaga captain Weligton sent a header narrowly wide with around 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 King’s Cup final on Wednesday.
“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 news 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.
It was their second defeat by their arch-rivals in five days after Real dumped them out of the King’s Cup 4-2 on aggregate on Tuesday and only their second reverse of the league campaign following January’s loss at Real Sociedad.
Barca have 68 points from 26 matches with Atletico on 57 and Real 55. Malaga trail on 43 points, one ahead of Valencia, who drew 2-2 at home to city rivals Levante on Saturday.
“A draw was a fair result,” Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini told a news conference.
“We have secured a point against a great team who are having a great season,” added the Chilean.
“They are second in the league, they are in the Cup final and have a lot of individual quality.”
European qualification hopefuls Real Sociedad and Real Betis played out an entertaining 3-3 draw in San Sebastian in Sunday’s late kick-off.
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, who play on the other side of Spain in Seville, are one behind in seventh. Real Mallorca gave their bid to survive the drop a boost when Israel striker Tomer Hemed nodded a 94th-minute winner in a 2-1 comeback victory at fellow strugglers Granada. Mallorca have 21 points in 19th and Granada are 16th on 26.
Espanyol and Real Valladolid drew 0-0 at Espanyol’s Cornella El Prat Stadium in Barcelona and are 13th and 11th respectively. REUTERS