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Sun 17 Feb 2008 07:38 AM

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Ronaldinho reignites Barca hopes

Ronaldinho converted a late penalty to give Barcelona a 2-1 win at Real Zaragoza on Saturday.

Ronaldinho converted a late penalty to give Barcelona a 2-1 win at Real Zaragoza on Saturday which cut the gap at the top of the Spanish league to five points after leaders Real Madrid had slumped to a shock 2-1 loss at Real Betis.

The Brazilian superstar, who has endured a tough season in which he has been dogged by injury as well as poor form, scored from the spot in the 83rd minute after Zaragoza defender Juanfran had been penalised for hand ball.

Ronaldinho had entered the action off the bench in the last 15 minutes with his team being held 1-1.

Thierry Henry had given Barca a 34th-minute lead scoring from a super pass from Deco for his seventh goal in 19 league games this season.

Zaragoza's Diego Milito then blasted a penalty over the top of the crossbar before Brazilian striker Oliveira brought the home side level in the 53rd minute.

Earlier, champions Real Madrid suffered their fourth league defeat of the season at Betis, a result that saw the southerners exit the bottom five.

Real's German coach Bernd Schuster claimed his men deserved a point.

"I think we sat back and relaxed too much. I think a draw would have been a fair result," said Schuster, adding that a more charged-up side would come out midweek against Roma in the Champions League.

"That's a very important game and the players will have a lot more motivation - it'll be nothing like today."

Oozing confidence after last week's seven-goal mauling of Valladolid, Real chose all out attack from the start and took just five minutes to break the deadlock with a goal which had a distinctly Dutch flavour.

Winger Arjen Robben fed evergreen Spanish international Raul, who found himself crowded out, but Royston Drenthe was on hand to tuck home.

The Robben-Drenthe axis almost produced another goal on the quarter hour but Betis keeper Ricardo was alert to the former's through ball.

Former Liverpool man Mark Gonzalez did his best to stir the hosts into a riposte when it looked as if the Seville-based side might be overrun and inside four minutes around the half-hour mark the tide turned.

Argentine Hugo Pavone did well to hold off a tigerish challenge from Michel Salgado to cut in from the left flank and whip over a perfectly-weighted cross for Edu to flash an instinctive header past Iker Casillas for the equaliser.

Then Gonzalez climbed above Marcelo to nod Betis into the lead, Edu this time the supplier.

Suddenly, Real were on the back foot as they reverted to the sloppiness of their last away Liga outing, a 2-0 reverse in Almeria, leaving Casillas' earlier comments to Spanish media that the meringues have "the best defence in the world" open to some doubt.

Rearguard nerves almost handed Betis a third eight minutes after the restart with Casillas having to make a point blank save from Pavone.

At the other end, Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the width of a post away from levelling on 66 minutes with a right-foot flick.

Seville scored a fine 4-2 away win at Espanyol built on goals in the opening ten minutes from Luis Fabiano and Freddy Kanoute.

A left-foot strike from Luis Garcia gave Espanyol some hope five minutes before the break but the hosts then found themselves down to ten men after Zabaleta was sent off midway through the second period following a foul on Diego Capel.

Danish midfielder Christian Poulsen promptly restored the two-goal lead with the visitors' third after 73 minutes and, although Coro netted for Espanyol two minutes later, Sevilla held their nerve in a pulsating finale as Capel struck with the clincher 13 minutes from time.

On Sunday, Champions League aspirants Villarreal, currently six points behind Barca but one ahead of Atletico Madrid, must get past sixth-placed Racing Santander while Atletico themselves host struggling Athletic Bilbao.

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