MADRID (Reuters) – Atletico Madrid completed the first half of the La Liga season with a perfect home record after Thiago and Radamel Falcao struck in a 2-0 win against Real Zaragoza on Sunday.
The victory at the Calderon means Atletico have won 10 La Liga home games on the trot for the first time in almost 40 years and they closed to within eight points of unbeaten leaders Barcelona, who play at fifth-placed Malaga in Sunday’s late kickoff (2000 GMT).
Barca have 52 points from 18 matches, with Atletico, resurgent under Argentine coach Diego Simeone, in second on 44 from 19.
They stretched their advantage over third-placed city rivals Real Madrid to seven points after the stuttering champions were held to a 0-0 draw at bottom side Osasuna on Saturday and had Kaka sent off.
Midfielder Thiago nodded a dominant Atletico ahead in the 31st minute and Falcao doubled the home side’s lead from the penalty spot seven minutes later after Arda Turan was felled by Zaragoza defender Cristian Sapunaru.
It was the seventh successful penalty conversion this season by the Colombia striker, who is coveted by several of Europe’s wealthiest clubs, and took his league tally for the campaign to 18, nine behind Barca forward Lionel Messi and two ahead of Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Real Betis continued their impressive push for a European qualification place when in-form forward Ruben Castro created one goal and scored another in a 2-0 win at home to Levante in the early kickoff.
The victory at a festive Estadio Benito Villamarin in sunny Seville lifted Betis to fourth on 34 points with half the season played, three ahead of Andalusian rivals Malaga.
Castro set up Costa Rica forward Joel Campbell, on loan from English Premier League club Arsenal, to put Betis ahead in the seventh minute.
The 31-year-old Canary Islander then netted his 11th league goal of the campaign just after the hour following a superb piece of close control on the edge of the area.
Coached by the charismatic Pepe Mel, Betis last took part in European competition in 2005-06 when they finished third in their Champions League group behind Liverpool and Chelsea.
They were relegated in 2008-09 before winning promotion back to Spain’s top flight two years later.
Valencia-based Levante, who have been drawn to play Greek side Olympiakos Piraeus in the Europa League last 32 when the competition resumes next month, are eighth on 30 points.
Deportivo La Coruna survived the 64th-minute dismissal of defender Evaldo and held on to earn a 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad that put them back above Osasuna.
(Editing by Tom Pilcher and Alison Wildey)
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