MADRID: Real Madrid striker Ronaldo and Barcelona midfielder Luis Enrique both scored against their former teams as the two arch-rivals fought out an intense 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu on Saturday.
The result means Real move four points clear at the top of the table, but Deportivo Coruna and Real Sociedad will be able to narrow the gap to just a point if they win their respective home games on Sunday.
Barcelona move up to 11th place, but are still just seven points above the relegation zone.
“We deserved to win the game,” Barcelona coach Radomir Antic told reporters. “But I was very pleased with our performance and I can say that we were the better side. This result will certainly boost the team’s morale.”
Earlier, Valencia’s hopes of securing a place in next season’s Champions League were thrown into jeopardy by a 1-0 defeat at modest Valladolid.
Valencia stay fourth in the table just two points ahead of Celta Vigo as the two sides fight it out for the final berth in Europe’s top club competition.
The defending champions have now won just one of their last seven matches and can be overhauled by Celta in the standings if the Galicians win their match at relegation-threatened Osasuna on Sunday.
The 24-point gulf between Real and Barcelona was certainly not evident as the Catalans dominated for the game long periods and produced one of their best domestic performances of the season.
Real had the first opportunity after Raul twisted free of Frank de Boer and slipped the ball to Ronaldo, but the former Barca player sent his shot wide of the post on five minutes.
Barcelona responded strongly and striker Patrick Kluivert tested Iker Casillas with a sharp shot soon after but the Real keeper managed to get enough of a touch to the Dutchman’s goal-bound shot to sent it spinning wide of the far post.
But just when the Catalans looked to be getting on top, Ronaldo struck with a trademark finish on 16 minutes.
French midfielder Claude Makelele snapped up a loose ball and hooked a hopeful pass forward towards the area where it fell into the path of the Brazilian who guided the ball inside the near post past Barca goaleeper Roberto Bonano.
There was a brief respite following the Real goal, but Barcelona managed to retain control of the midfield and Marc Overmars was a constant threat on the left wing.
The former Arsenal player launched the move that led to the equaliser when he floated in a fine cross to the heart of the Real area where Kluivert met it with a powerful header.
Casillas blocked on the line but the ball squirted out of his hands and Luis Enrique was on hand to poke into the open net on 32 minutes.
Tempers flared soon afterwards when players from both sides got involved in a scuffle as Zinedine Zidane fouled defender Carles Puyol on the halfway line.
There was no break from the action and Barca had the ball in the net three minutes before the break, but the referee blew for offside after Gaizka Mendieta had drilled past Casillas.
Barca started well after the break as they bossed the midfield and Kluivert went close early on when he volleyed into the arms of Casillas after a well-worked passing move.
Luis Enrique had a strong appeal for a penalty turned down midway through the half when he appeared to have been brought down by Real skipper Fernando Hierro.
But Barca were unable to convert their possession into another goal and it was Real who threatened to snatch a victory at the end. Former Barcelona player Luis Figo fired straight at Bonano 10 minutes from time and Ronaldo hit the bar with an acrobatic overhead kick soon after.
Real lost defender Michel Salgado when he was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Overmars two minutes from time, but Real were denied a late winner when Bonano produced a fine reflex save to block a vicious drive from Zidane. – Reuters