Image: football Soccer – Valencia v Real Madrid – Spanish Liga – Mestalla Stadium, Valencia, Spain – 3/1/16. Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema celebrates a goal. REUTERS/Heino Kalis
By Tim Hanlon
BARCELONA (Reuters) – A Paco Alcacer header gave Valencia a 2-2 draw in a highly charged La Liga clash against third-placed Real Madrid who had taken the lead with eight minutes remaining on Sunday.
Real, who had Mateo Kovacic sent off after 68 minutes for a two-footed challenge, went 2-1 ahead with a superb Gareth Bale header only for Alcacer to level just over a minute later.
Real had opened the scoring after a magical team move in which Karim Benzema linked up with Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo before finishing clinically after 17 minutes.
Both sides had spells of dominance and Valencia equalised through a Dani Parejo penalty just before halftime after a foul by Pepe on Andre Gomes.
The game was evenly poised when Kovacic was red carded for a reckless challenge on Joao Cancelo shortly after Ronaldo thought he should have had a penalty when he was bundled over.
Bale put Real back in front when he headed into the top corner from a free-kick after 82 minutes but Alcacer nodded in the equaliser from close range.
Valencia coach Gary Neville is still without a win in four league games but will be delighted at how his team fought back.
For under-fire Real coach Rafa Benitez, back at the club where he won’the league in 2002 and 2004, plus the UEFA Cup, it was another game where they failed to beat battling opponents.
“It is difficult to maintain a high intensity and double if you have a player less but we showed pride,” Real defender Sergio Ramos told reporters. “We wanted to start the year’showing character and I think we did so here.”
Atletico Madrid are top with 41 points from 18 matches, two ahead of Barcelona, who have a game in hand, while Real have 37, one more than Villarreal who won 2-1 at Deportivo La Coruna thanks to a late penalty from Bruno Soriano who scored twice.
Real moved the ball around slickly in attack and went ahead with their first real chance. Benzema exchanged passes with Bale, who back-heeled the ball to Ronaldo, and the Portuguese set up Benzema to score.
Valencia’s improved as the first half went on and equalised after Pepe was caught out by Gomes and he brought him down for a penalty struck by Parejo.
Real rallied in the second half following the dismissal of Kovacic and went back ahead through a pin-point Bale header from a Toni Kroos free-kick but then they were exposed at the back with Rodrigo heading back across goal and Alcacer scored.
In the dying moments of the game Alvaro Negredo was through on goal but denied by keeper Keylor Navas.
Villarreal went ahead with the only clear chance in the first period when Soriano was given space inside the area from a Mario Gaspar pass and he slotted home in the 36th minute.
The game opened up after the break and Depor’s Luis Alberto converted a Lucas Perez cross to equalise after 48 minutes.
Perez fired just wide in front of goal and Villarreal’s Denis Suarez was denied by the feet of German Lux but the game appeared to be heading for a draw until Fernando Navarro pushed Samu Garcia in the area to concede a penalty.
Soriano stepped up to slot home his second goal in the 94th minute for their fifth straight win after a lively second half.
Elsewhere, Eibar’s Ander Capa, Keko, Adrian Gonzalez and Borja Baston were on target for the mid-table side in a 4-0 win at Real Betis, while lowly Granada’s Isaac Success and Adalberto Penaranda scored in a 2-1 victory over Sevilla.
Second-bottom Rayo Vallecano’s Diego Llorente and Jozabed Sanchez struck in a 2-2 draw at home to Real Sociedad whose goals came from Aritz Elustondo and Bruma.
(Reporting by Tim Hanlon; editing by Ken Ferris)
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