| Barcelona’s Ronaldinho battles for the ball with Javi Gonzalez of Athletic Bilbao during their Spanish League encounter in Barcelona on Saturday. (Reuters)
Madrid: Leaders Valencia left the door open for Real Madrid to recapture top spot in the Spanish premier division league after being held to a 0-0 draw away to a determined Valladolid on Saturday.
Valencia dominated most of the match but with playmaker Pablo Aimar serving a one-match ban, the visitors lacked the creativity to break down a well organised defence.
The home side finished strongly and, had it not been for a brilliant one-handed save by Valencia keeper Santiago Canizares in the dying minutes, Valladolid might have stolen a victory.
The result left Valencia with a two-point advantage over Real Madrid, but the champions can reclaim top spot if they win at Real Betis.
Barcelona missed their chance to move up the standings when they conceded a late goal to draw 1-1 at home to Athletic Bilbao in Saturday’s late match, in a game that marked the debut of new signing Edgar Davids.
Frank Rijkaard’s side remains in seventh place in the table, 16 points behind Valencia and one ahead of Bilbao.
Valencia made a bright start at Valladolid, forcing a string of corners and creating several good chances in the opening minutes. Leading scorer Mista skied a shot over the bar following a lightning break by midfielder Vicente on eight minutes and unmarked defender Roberto Ayala headed wide from a corner.
But Valladolid gradually grew in confidence and towering centre forward Ariza Makakula created problems for the Valencia defence from set pieces, shaving the post with a well struck free-kick midway through the half. Chances were few and far between in the second half, but Valladolid mounted a furious bid for victory in the closing minutes and Makakula was only denied when his header was scooped off the line by an outstretched Canizares.
Goalkeeper Albert Jorquera also starred at the Nou Camp as the reserve team player produced a string of top-class saves to deny Bilbao an early goal on his league debut.
With the bubbly Ronaldinho orchestrating affairs, the Catalans recovered from a shaky start to take the lead midway through the second half when Patrick Kluivert finished off a beautifully fashioned passing move with a powerful header.
But Bilbao midfielder Carlos Gurpegi made the most of a late lapse of concentration in the Barca defence to grab the equaliser when he headed in a fine cross from Asier del Horno four minutes from time.
Earlier, basement side Murcia mounted an impressive fightback when they came from two goals down at halftime to earn a 2-2 draw at home to fellow strugglers Celta Vigo.
The point was still not enough, though, to lift Joaquin Peiro’s side off the bottom of the table.
Parma, Lazio held
In Italy, Adriano celebrated his return from injury by scoring the equaliser in Parma’s 1-1 draw with Udinese in Serie A while Lazio were held by the same scoreline at lowly Modena.
Brazilian Adriano, who had not played a league match since injuring his hamstring in November, headed in from a corner ten minutes from the end of the match to cancel out teammate Matteo Ferrari’s first-half own goal.
Parma, whose future is uncertain after the collapse of their owners Parmalat, remain fifth after the result, level on 31 points with Inter Milan.
Despite creating more chances in a lively first half, Udinese struggled to find a way past visiting keeper Sebastien Frey, who showed the same composure that inspired his side to a 1-0 win over Inter last weekend.
But Frey could do nothing to stop the goal that put the home side ahead in the 23rd minute, when Ferrari’s misdirected clearance ended up on the wrong side of his far post.
Parma almost equalised a minute later, when Italian under-21 international Alberto Gilardinio headed against the bar.
Lazio’s disappointing league form continued when they could only draw 1-1 at Modena, who have not won in Serie A since early November.
The result left the Rome-based club sixth and ten points behind league leaders and arch-rivals AS Roma, having taken just one point from their first three games of 2004.
Lazio’s disappointing day on the pitch was offset by events earlier in the day, when a meeting of the club’s shareholders approved a 120 million euro capital hike, deemed essential to prevent top players leaving during the January transfer window.