Atletico Madrid held to draw at Malaga

March 3, 2013, 9:01 AM

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

BARCELONA, Spain — Atletico Madrid squandered a chance to reduce the gap with Spanish leader Barcelona to single digits after being held to a 0-0 draw at Malaga on Sunday, while Real Sociedad and Real Betis dueled to a thrilling 3-3 draw.

Atletico started well and bossed the first half hour of play at La Rosaleda Stadium, when pressure applied by strike pair Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa led to Arda Turan’s and Cristian Rodriguez’s long-range attempts.

But after a frenetic first half, the defences reduced the match to an ugly stalemate for most of the final 45 minutes.

Malaga was never able to find its flow in attack and was limited to defenders Martin Demichelis and Weligton going close with headers from set-pieces.

By not winning, Atletico likely let escape its last chance to add some drama to the title race, with Barcelona reeling after two losses to Real Madrid this week and focusing on its last-16 Champions League series with AC Milan in which it needs to come back from a 2-0 deficit.

Atletico trails Barcelona, which lost 2-1 at Madrid on Saturday, by 11 points in second place with 12 rounds to go.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone, however, was content to take away a point four days after his team sealed its place in the Copa del Rey final against Madrid by eliminating Sevilla.

"My team dominated the game," Simeone said. "We just lacked making that final pass to convert our 90 minutes of good play into a goal."

Malaga stayed in fourth place, one point ahead of Valencia and clinging to Spain’s final Champions League spot for next season. It also faces a key Champions League game against FC Porto in two weeks in which it must overturn a 1-0 loss in the first leg.

Anoeta stadium was treated to one of the most entertaining games so far this season, as Sociedad and Betis put on a tireless display of attacking football that featured a double by Betis’ Dorlan Pabon and five goals in a 17-minute span before ending in a deserved point for each.

Only seconds after Sociedad’s Imanol Agirretxe had hit the post, Jorge Molina capped a counterattack on the other end to give Betis the lead on the half-hour mark.

Pabon doubled the visitors’ advantage in the 49th by taking advantage of a defensive mistake to convert Benat Etxebarria’s lobbed pass.

Yet instead of folding, Sociedad responded in fine fashion and the game quickly became a shootout.

Carlos Vela scored his 12th goal of the season for Sociedad two minutes later, and the Mexico forward then crossed for Inigo Martinez to head Sociedad level in the 56th.

The Basque side then went ahead for the first time in the 62nd when Xabi Prieto converted a penalty in the "Paneka" chipped style after Angel Lopez had cut off a pass in the box with his arm.

But Pabon struck for a second time in the 66th when the Colombia forward ran onto substitute Ruben Castro’s pass and deftly slotted it beyond Bravo.

"It was a spectacular game to be savored with swings in the score, lots of goals and chances for more," said Molina. "We played a great match against a rival that plays very much like we do."

Sociedad extended its undefeated run to eight games and held onto sixth place, right in front of Betis.

Elsewhere, Tomer Hemed’s last-gasp header gave Mallorca a 2-1 win in stoppage time at Granada, breaking an eight-game winless run for the relegation-threatened club.

Hemed muscled by his marker to reach Giovani dos Santos’ corner, with Granada goalkeeper Antonio "Tono" Rodriguez getting a hand on the ball but not enough to keep it from crossing the line. It was the Israeli striker’s eighth goal of the season and his first since November.

Manuel "Nolito" Agudo opened the scoring for Granada in the eighth minute, only for Mallorca forward Alejandro Alfaro to level five minutes later from a cross by Dos Santos.

Mallorca’s first victory under new coach Gregorio Manzano lifted it four points from safety. Granada is three points from the drop.

"These points reinforce our morale and give us strength," said Manzano. "We still need many more points. I wish today’s win had been worth eight instead of just three. But this win means a lot for the team and our fans."

In Barcelona, Espanyol’s home winning run was ended at five games after it was held to a 0-0 draw by Valladolid, keeping both teams in the middle of the table.

Later, Real Sociedad hosts Real Betis.

Getafe eased by Real Zaragoza 2-0 on Friday. Also on Saturday, Levante drew 2-2 at Valencia, Athletic Bilbao won 1-0 at Osasuna, and last-place Deportivo La Coruna drew 0-0 with Rayo Vallecano.

Sevilla hosts Celta Vigo on Monday.

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