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Football: Robben Thunderbolt Fires Real Third In Spanish League

Posted on: January 5, 2009

MADRID : A brilliant solo goal from Dutch winger Arjen Robben helped Real Madrid close the gap on runaway leaders Barcelona to 12 points as the champions defeated Villarreal 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

Real coach Juande Ramos handed debuts to French midfielder Lassana Diarra and Dutch international striker Klass-Jan Huntelaar – 40 million euros worth of talent – but it was Robben that proved the difference.

The former Chelsea man jinked his way past several opponents – leaving Spanish star Marcos Senna sprawling on the ground – before unleashing an unstoppable 31st minute winner.

“We are getting some good results and that is the best way for us to move forward and gain confidence,” explained Ramos.

“We were tired because there were a lot of players who hadn’t played for a while and it was a tough second half.”

It was Ramos’s second league win in charge and Real climb to third but they need Barcelona, who came from behind to defeat Real Mallorca 3-1 on Saturday, to start slipping up.

Barca are 11 points clear of Valencia while Villarreal’s third straight league defeat leaves them 15 adrift of the pacesetters.

Ramos had no hesitation in giving league debuts to Diarra, who he signed for 20 million euros from Portsmouth during the transfer window, and Huntelaar who was a 20 million euro buy by former manager Bernd Schuster.

“Lass (Diarra) did an excellent job and was shattered while Huntelaar had a decent first half and then got tired too,” added Ramos.

The Christmas break also allowed Real to recover injured players and they welcomed back Pepe and Gabriel Heinze to strengthen the back four.

Real hit the woodwork on 11 minutes when Robben’s deflected shot took a ricochet off the top of the crossbar for a corner.

Robben was Real’s standout player and the Dutch star scored a terrific goal just after the hour.

Cutting in from the right flank Robben faked to shoot – deceiving Spanish international Senna who threw himself to the ground in a last ditch block – before firing a fierce drive into the top corner with his left foot.

Six minutes before the break Huntelaar should have got a debut goal but Diego Lopez foiled the Dutchman with a reflex save.

Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini’s severe half-time dressing down seemed to work and they were transformed in the second period putting Real on the back foot with a series of corners.

“Real were good up until the goal and then we took control of possession and looked like the home side,” said Pellegrini.

“It is three consecutive defeats and although they were narrow we still lost them.”

Ramos decided to make a change with Huntelaar, still short of match fitness, taken off for Roysten Drenthe just 10 minutes into the second half.

Villarreal pushed forward and their best chance came on 70 minutes when Giuseppe Rossi’s header was pushed onto the crossbar by Casillas.

The visitors were the better side in the second half but the ball wouldn’t go in.

Former Real legend Hugo Sanchez, who won five consecutive league titles in Real colours from 1985 to 1990, had a great start with new club Almeria with his first match in charge ending in a 1-0 win over Real Betis.

Elsewhere Recreativo Huelva did their chances of staying up a power of good with a 3-1 win over Numancia on Sunday that lifts them out of the bottom three.

Later on Sunday Sevilla have a chance to reclaim second when they take on bottom side Osasuna at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

“Our aim is to do better than we did in 2008 but that would be to finish top,” explained Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez.

“We want to fight for the top spots and it will be tough as there are five other teams with the same target.”

– AFP /ls

Channel News Asia

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