Real Madrid made it seven straight league victories with a 1-0 win over a determined Racing Santander at the Bernabéu. The reigning champions have conceded just one goal in their winning run and sit clear in second place behind runaway leaders Barcelona. Madrid's football may not be as attractive nor attack-minded as the Catalans, but their new coach Juande Ramos has instilled a winning mentality.
"We managed to grab another win and that gives the team confidence," Ramos said. "We are not conceding goals and got another three points and that's the important thing." Only an implausible Barca slip-up will give Madrid a chance of retaining their title, so Ramos's physical, defence minded, side are well prepared to meet Liverpool in the Champions League. And in winger Arjen Robben, Madrid have a sublime talent who can unlock any defence.
Robben didn't score against Santander, but again he was Madrid's best player before being replaced by French debutant Julien Faubert, who signed from West Ham United last month. The right winger's impact was limited, however. Gonzalo Higuain scored Madrid's goal in the 49th minute when he ran on to Raul's headed pass. The Argentine avoided a sliding challenge from Cesar Navas and chipped the ball over Racing goalkeeper Tono into the far corner for his 13th league goal of the season.
Madrid are not killing teams off though and Racing's Jonathan Pereira had a chance to equalise after 75 minutes. Iker Casillas - making his 454th Madrid appearance to equal the club's goalkeeping record held by Buyo - raced out to block the forward's shot and Fabio Cannavaro cleared. Higuain played down suggestions that the champions have become "boring" to watch. He said: "The key thing is that we haven't conceded any goals and the team continue winning. I don't think that we are boring. The team have won once again and picked up three points from a difficult game.
"The most important thing is that we continue along this line, to win seven successive games isn't easy. We have to continue like that. What is important now is that we rest and think about the next game. We need to continue along this line and continue working." In Saturday's other game, Real Betis won 2-1 in an ill-tempered derby at Sevilla. After starting the year in second, Sevilla have now lost three consecutive league games.
The home side had the best chances, but when midfielder Aldo Duscher was dismissed for a second yellow card after 69 minutes, Sergio Garcia struck immediately for Betis. Sensing their fifth away win of the season - against just two at home - Betis attacked and Ricardo Oliveira, playing his first match since his return to the club from second-division Real Zaragoza, scored an 83rd-minute winner. The Brazilian striker, Betis's top scorer in the 2004-05 season, has already reassumed his hero status. Frederic Kanoute headed a late consolation goal for Sevilla.
"It should not be a dream for us to win here," said Betis coach Paco Chaparro. "We deserved it." * With agencies