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Spanish title race reaches nerve-shredding finale

sports Updated: Jun 15, 2007 13:24 IST
Simon Baskett
Simon Baskett
Reuters
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The nerve-shredding Spanish title race reaches a gripping finale on Sunday with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla all still in with a chance of taking the honours.

After a heart-stopping climax to last weekend's round of matches, Real remain in pole position, level on points with Barcelona but with the advantage thanks to their better record in head-to-heads, while Sevilla are within striking distance just two points further back.

Real will end their four-year trophy drought and give departing players David Beckham and Roberto Carlos a victorious send-off from the Bernabeu if they can beat mid-table Real Mallorca at home on Sunday.

But a draw or defeat would leave the door open to arch-rivals Barca to wrap up a third league title in a row at relegated Gimnastic Tarragona.

Sevilla will be waiting to pounce on any slip-ups by the top two, but they are without a host of key players including leading striker Frederic Kanoute in their tricky contest at home to sixth-placed Villarreal.

Real appeared to have let the title slip from their grasp last Saturday when they trailed Real Zaragoza 2-1 with just over a minute to play while Barca led city rivals Espanyol 2-1.

But in yet another twist to the most exciting title race in over a decade, Ruud van Nistelrooy snatched a last-gasp equaliser for Real and 18 seconds later Espanyol striker Raul Tamudo levelled the game against Barca.

Wild celebrations

The goals sparked wild celebrations from the Real fans and their president Ramon Calderon who ran down on to the pitch to celebrate, but coach Fabio Capello has warned his players against getting carried away by the euphoria.

"We must be on our guard because the final game is always very dangerous," the Italian said this week. "We shouldn't be thinking about celebrations, the Mallorca game will be anything but easy."

Goalkeeper Iker Casillas said that after such a poor start to the season, the players could hardly believe they are so close to winning the title.

"No one expected a finale like this, it's incredible," he said. "After all that has happened this year we never thought we'd be going into the final game depending on ourselves."

Barca's failure to beat Espanyol has prompted a round of soul searching at the Nou Camp this week with Samuel Eto'o leading the way.

"The mistake we made goes right back to the beginning of the season," said the Cameroon striker. "We thought we'd won the league before it had even started. But the season isn't over yet and I'm hoping we can still win it on the last day."

There will be almost as much excitement at the other end of the table with supporters of Real Sociedad, Celta Vigo, Athletic Bilbao and Real Betis all on the edge of their seats as their teams slug it out to avoid joining Gimnastic in the second division.

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