Michael Owen made the most of his rare
opportunity to start a game in the Real Madrid attack by hitting the
winner at Albacete to keep alive his team's slim hopes of winning the
Owen, who was a late replacement for Raul who was injured in the warm-up,
netted the winner on the stroke of half-time after Ivan Helguera had
cancelled out Pablo Redondo's opening goal for the hosts.
Following Barcelona's 3-3 draw at home to Real Betis, Real's win means
that they have closed the gap to their bitter rivals to nine points
ahead of the massive clash between the two sides next weekend.
However it was not all good news for coach Wanderley Luxemburgo, who was
unable to call upon Raul or the injured David Beckham on Sunday night.
Bookings for Walter Samuel and Jose Maria Guti have definitely ruled
them out of the huge clash at the Santiago Bernabeu, which is a must-win
The away side started with a spring in their step, and the visitors did
not get the rub of the green when Ronaldo was wrongly penalised for
being offside when he raced clean through to lash the ball into the net
with a right-footed shot within the second minute of the match.
Moments later Ronaldo had another run at goal, and the Albacete defence
had to scramble the ball away from goal after goalkeeper Raul Valbuena
had spilled the Brazilian striker's left-footed shot.
However Albacete took the lead against the run of play with nine minutes
on the clock, when Redondo seized on a loose ball on the edge of the
penalty area, and amazingly drilled a left-footed shot through three
pairs of legs into the net.
Real levelled the score just six minutes later though, when Helguera
rose to head home from 10 yards following a corner from Luis Figo.
Real were finding it difficult to break down a stubborn home defence,
and their best chances were coming from set pieces.
Roberto Carlos was unlucky when he saw his low left-footed free-kick
brilliantly turned aside by Valbuena.
However the away side took the lead after a rare, flowing move in
stoppage time at the end of the first half.
Thomas Gravesen released Guti, who played in Owen, who made no mistake
by sliding home a right-footed shot from 12 yards.
Albacete wasted an excellent chance to level the score in the opening
stages of the first half, as Martin Ruben Castro fired a shot straight
at goalkeeper Iker Casillas from close range.
As the second half wore on, Real started to control the play, and Figo's
deflected shot forced Valbuena to claw the ball to safety at full
stretch, before another free-kick from Roberto Carlos fizzed inches wide
of the foot of the post from 20 yards.
Real came close again when Ronaldo skipped past a defender before being
thwarted by Valbuena, who bravely dived at his feet.
Albacete were finding it difficult to create chances, and when Rubio
Alvaro did have a sight of goal, he blazed the ball over the crossbar
with a left-footed shot on the edge of the penalty area.
The away team nearly scored a third goal deep into stoppage time, but
Roberto Carlos' speculative 40-yard drive was kept out, with difficulty,
by a relieved Valbuena.