MADRID - Real Madrid's bid to end
Barcelona's two-year reign as La Liga champions suffered a huge
setback on Saturday when they slumped to a shock 1-0 defeat at
home to Sporting Gijon and Barca won 1-0 at Villarreal.
Real's failure at a stunned Bernabeu, three days before they
host Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League, spoiled their
perfect home record of 14 wins in 14 this season and ended coach
Jose Mourinho's own nine-year unbeaten run in home league games.
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Barca then rubbed salt in their great rival's wounds in the
late kick-off when Gerard Pique struck to earn three points at
Villarreal and stretch their lead to eight points with eight
The Spain defender controlled a Sergio Busquets flick from a
Daniel Alves corner on his chest in the 67th minute at the
Madrigal and lashed the ball into the net from close range,
sparking wild celebrations on the Barcelona bench.
"Mathematics say the league is not lost but objectively
speaking if the gap goes from five to eight points we can say
that it's almost impossible," Mourinho told a news conference.
"Luck is part of football and our opponent (Gijon) had it
all and we had none."
Barca have 81 points from 30 games with Real on 73. Valencia
climbed above Villarreal into third after Roberto Soldado struck
four times against his former club Getafe in a 4-2 win.
Manu Del Moral put Madrid-based Getafe ahead in the 13th
minute before Soldado, who joined Valencia at the end of last
season as a replacement for the Barca-bound David Villa, scored
four fine goals after halftime.
Adrian Sardinero netted a consolation in the 88th.
Real's joint La Liga top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, in-form
striker Karim Benzema and full-back Marcelo all missed the game
against Gijon through injury, while midfielder Xabi Alonso was
suspended, and Mourinho's side initially struggled to create
chances against their obstinate visitors.
Forward Gonzalo Higuain, making his first appearance in four
months after back surgery, squandered a fine opportunity on the
hour when he blasted straight at goalkeeper Juan Pablo shortly
after coming on as a substitute.
Gijon grabbed a surprise lead 19 minutes later when Miguel
Angel de las Cuevas burst into the area from the left wing and
struck a precise shot that beat goalkeeper Iker Casillas to his
right and went in off the post.
In a frenetic final few minutes, Real were denied an
equaliser by some desperate defending and Sami Khedira had an
effort cleared off the line by a Gijon outfield player in the
fourth minute of added time.
"A big part of the league has slipped away from us," Real's
Spain defender Sergio Ramos said in a television interview.
Asked whether the defeat meant the end of their hopes of
catching Barca, he added: "Being realistic, yes more or less.
There are very few points left available.
"You cannot blame the team in any way as the ball just
unfortunately wouldn't go in today. It's very sad to lose when
you have so many chances."
Gijon's win was a personal triumph for their charismatic
coach Manuel Preciado, who rowed with Mourinho when the teams
met in November.
Preciado was incensed after the Portuguese suggested Gijon
had not given their all against Barca and the pair were
reprimanded by a government commission that seeks to combat
racism and intolerance in sport.
"Mou(rinho) congratulated each of my players in the dressing
room," Preciado said at a news conference. "Now we have to build
on all this work in the eight remaining games."
Gijon are 11th on 35 points, six above the relegation zone.
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