The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Real shocked by Sociedad

Madrid: League leaders Real Madrid were left beaten and bewildered by a sparkling Real Sociedad on Sunday as their Basque hosts romped to a 4-2 victory.

Sociedad began brilliantly, racing into a 3-0 lead after just 32 minutes with two classy strikes from centre forward Darko Kovacevic and a well-taken goal from Turkish international Nihat Kahveci.

Ronaldo pulled one back for Real a minute later, but the Basques restored their three-goal cushion straight from the kickoff when midfielder Xabi Alonso scored with a spectacular curler.

Substitute striker Javier Portillo narrowed the gap again with a neatly-taken goal six minutes from time, but the late strike could take nothing away from a scintillating performance from Raynald Denoueix’s side.

The result breathes new life into the title race and means that Real’s lead at the top of the Spanish table has been narrowed to just three points after the weekend’s matches.

Deportivo Coruna are in second spot thanks to their 4-2 win over struggling Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Saturday, level on points with Sociedad.

Valencia are a distant fourth place after overcoming the first minute sending off of defender Carlos Marchena to claim a 1-0 win over struggling Osasuna.

Barcelona drop to 12th place as a result of the weekend’s action and are now just six points above the drop zone, with a crunch match against Real Madrid next week.

Goals were aplenty in Sunday’s earlier matches with Atletico Madrid and Real Mallorca both fighting their way from behind to claim 3-3 home draws.

Trailing 3-1 with just four minutes to go, defender Mirsad Hibic and midfielder Carlos Aguilera struck late goals to earn Atletico a valuable home point against a rejuvenated Espanyol. Mallorca also came back from 3-1 down against 10-man Racing Santander thanks to two second half strikes from Cameroon international Samuel Eto’o.

In the day’s best, Sociedad got off to a flying start when Kovacevic clipped home at the near post on three minutes after defender Agustin Aranzabal had skipped past the Real defence and set his team mate up with a neat pass.

The powerful Serbian grabbed his second on 20 minutes after a brilliantly-executed counter-attack that has become the Basque side’s trademark this season.

Midfielder Javi de Pedro raced down the left wing and clipped a teasing cross behind the Real defence, which was expertly directed in by Kovacevic to score his 17th goal of the season.

Real, who had looked so impressive in midweek as they outclassed Manchester United in their 3-1 Champions League quarter final first leg victory at the Bernabeu, struggled to find their way as they were deprived of the ball by the Sociedad midfield.

And the European champions were still reeling from that early double blow when Kovacevic’s strike partner Nihat added a third on 32 minutes.

Picking up the ball on the edge of the area the Turkish international darted in between Real defenders Fernando Hierro and Ivan Helguera and stabbed the ball neatly past a dismayed Casillas.

Ronaldo pulled one back for Real a minute later when he guided home at the far post after a pin-point pass from Zinedine Zidane, but Sociedad went into the break 4-1 up after midfielder Xabi Alonso replied with his brilliant curler. Ronaldo threatened to narrow the difference midway through the second half, but Sociedad keeper Sander Westerveld snatched the ball from his feet as he bore down on the goal.

Real did, however, manage a late consolation when substitute Javier Portillo beat the offside trap before drilling under Westerveld six minutes from time.

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