Real Madrid survived a first-half hat trick by Uruguayan Walter Pandiani
to beat Espanyol, 4-3, and take over the lead in Spain's La Liga for the first time in
19 months when Barcelona was forced to settle for a 1-1 tie with Real Betis.
The Merengues looked to be in trouble when Pandiani scored three goals in 19 minutes and Espanyol went into
halftime with a 3-1 lead. But Real Madrid recovered in a wild second half on goals by captain Raul,
substitute Jose Antonio
and Franco-Argentine newcomer Gonzalo Higuain
Higuain's winner after a one-two with Reyes in the 89th minute touched off wild
celebrations at Madrid's Bernabeu Stadium.
Barca needed to win at home on Sunday to maintain its lead and looked to be command when Ronaldinho
it an early lead from the penalty spot. Samuel Eto'o
and Andres Iniesta
came close to adding to Barcelona's lead, but
Barca struggled in the second half after Lionel Messi
and Ronaldinho were substituted.
Real Betis got back into the game in the second half,
testing keeper Victor Valdes
on several occasions before equalizing two minutes from time when Brazilian striker Rafael
to the near post after breaking through the shaky Barcelona defense.