Barca edge close affair
By Alex Dunn
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Barcelona were never at their best but did enough to beat Real Sociedad 1-0.Barcelona will consider themselves fortunate after Samuel Eto'o's goal ten minutes from time saw off stubborn resolve from Real Sociedad.
The Cameroon international was left the most relieved man in the Catalan capital having previously missed a first minute penalty.
In truth, the fact Eto'o struck the post with his spot kick was justice after it was initially awarded in laughable circumstances, after Alejandro Alberto was adjudged to have felled Andres Iniesta.
After Eto'o's miss, Darko Kovacevic forced an excellent stop from Victor Valdes in the Barca goal, as the home side laboured - with their mercurial playmaker Ronaldinho hampered by a knock.
Valdes was excellent throughout and were it not for his agile prowess, Mikel Alonso would have surely found an opener.
With Sociedad in the ascendancy, in the second period, Xabier Prieto hauled back substitute Silvinho but was only showed a second yellow card for his efforts.
The game swung in Barca's favour and it was the ever willing Eto'o that again went closest when he hit the base of the Sociedad post, after shooting from the narrowest of angles.
Carles Puyol squandered the type of chance a player of his calibre would be expected to convert and then substitute Ludovic Giuly showed ring-rust on his return from injury when he failed to dispatch two decent opportunities.
A watching Jose Mourinho in the crowd may have been impressed with the fluidity of Barca's movement but it will be the weakness in their defence that will have intrigued most.
Kahveci Nihat exposed Barcelona's backline on three separate occasions and were it not for his wastefulness, there would have been partying in the streets of San Sebastian.
With the game reaching its climax, a corner from the left was flicked on and the predatory Eto'o was on hand to glance home an excellent header to give Barcelona a crucial but fortuitous victory.
In the night's other crucial clash, Real Madrid ran out 3-1 winners over Real Zaragoza despite falling behind to David Sanchez Villa's opener.
Villa was a model of composure when he finished with aplomb, after robbing a lethargic Ivan Helguera of possession to slot home in considerable style.
However, with Beckham excelling in Madrid's midfield, the home side levelled on the stroke of half time when Raul produced the most precocious of finishes from Ronaldo's pass.
In the second period, Zaragoza's Alvaro was shown his marching orders for a second bookable offence after a ludicrous lunge on Raul.
Alvaro's ill-discipline would prove costly as Madrid were soon in the lead courtesy of Ronaldo's header after Luis Figo's effort was parried by the Zaragoza goalkeeper.
With the game stretched, substitute Michael Owen bent an effort home for Madrid's third - although his strike was helped by a woeful piece of goalkeeping.
Thomas Graveson was summoned off the bench late on to help preserve Real's lead and gave a typically solid display in what was a pleasing evening for those in Madrid.