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Real Cedes Ground to Barca
ESPN Soccernet, February 18th, 2008 5:45PM

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ESPN's Phil Ball looks back on a weekend in Spain where neither of the league's two best teams played very well. In the end, Real Madrid ended up ceding ground to second-place Barcelona for the second time in three weeks, losing 2-1 at Real Betis despite scoring in the first six minutes and having more than 60 percent of the possession. Los Merengues were felled by an opponent that found and exploited the team's weakness: defending against crosses. And after seeing its 1-0 lead evaporate through a pair of nearly identical crosses and headers, Ball says that Real "played as though another goal would come, just as long as they kept the ball and passed it around with no particular plan in mind."

Barcelona, meanwhile, had a similarly listless outing at La Romareda against Real Zaragoza, but the Catalans came away 2-1 winners thanks to a gift from referee Bernardino Gonzalez Vazquez. With the match tied 1-1 with 10 minutes to go, the TV commentators praised Juanfran for taking a lofted ball down on his chest and clearing it in one motion, but the linesman immediately raised his flag for handball. Not only did Vazquez point to the spot, but he also gave Juanfran a yellow card. Ronaldinho stepped up to convert the ensuing penalty-an extremely harsh decision against Zaragoza, which was the better team throughout. Barca's win was a costly one for Real, which has seen its nine-point advantage fall to five in the last three weeks.

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