Leaders Madrid drop points against Girona, Betis strike late

A below-par Real Madrid dropped points in the title race with a 1-1 draw at home against Girona on Sunday in La Liga, with Rodrygo having a goal ruled out late on.

Second-placed Barcelona, who snatched a late victory at Valencia on Saturday, are now just a point behind the leaders, who remain unbeaten in the top flight.

Reigning champions Madrid took the lead through Vinicius Junior in the 70th minute but Cristhian Stuani levelled with a disputed penalty after Marco Asensio handled in the area.

Rodrygo bashed home what he thought was an 89th-minute winner, but it was disallowed as he kicked the ball out from under Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga’s hand — he had just about managed to get it under control after stopping a shot from the Brazilian.

Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos was sent off in stoppage time for the first time in his career, to cap a frustrating afternoon for Carlo Ancelotti’s team at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“I don’t like to talk about this a lot, but today I’ll talk,” said Madrid coach Ancelotti. “The first situation is quite clear, it’s not a penalty because he didn’t touch the ball with his hand.

“I spoke with Asensio and he touched the ball with his chest, it’s true he had his left hand in a strange position, but it covered the body, it didn’t make it bigger. There could have been doubt if it touched it, but simply he didn’t touch the ball with his hand, it was invented.”

The ball did appear to hit Asensio on the arm after it bounced off his chest.

Madrid could not bounce back from their first defeat of the season across all competitions, at RB Leipzig in the Champions League.

They were again without Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema, who was not 100 percent fit after a thigh problem.

Rodrygo hit the post for Madrid, while Girona’s Yangel Herrera crashed a strike against the crossbar in the first half, before Vinicius opened the scoring from Fede Valverde’s pass with 20 minutes remaining.

– ‘It’s strange’ –

Asensio almost doubled the lead, but Gazzaniga made a spectacular reflex save to keep Girona in the game.

They capitalised when Asensio was ruled to have handled a David Lopez shot and Stuani sent Thibaut Courtois the wrong way from the penalty spot.

“From what I remember the referees said at the start of the season if it hit another part of your body first, it’s not given,” said Courtois.

“They thought it was a penalty today, and that’s that. It’s strange, sometimes it’s handball, sometimes it’s not, we don’t know.”

The goal meant the Belgian again failed to keep a clean sheet in La Liga — he’s without any in eight matches this season.

Girona were good value for their point, even though it nearly slipped out of their hands when Rodrygo pounced at the end, but the goal was disallowed for the offence against Gazzaniga.

“Speaking in a football sense, it’s a goal, but the rule says if the goalkeeper has his hand planted, then it’s a foul,” admitted Girona coach Michel, able to celebrate a good result on his 47th birthday, which moved his team up to 16th.

Elsewhere, Real Betis earned a 2-0 win at Real Sociedad thanks to Juan Cruz’s neat finish after 85 minutes, and then a Borja Iglesias goal on the break in stoppage time.

Betis attacking midfielder Cruz tucked home from the edge of the box late on, with the win sending Manuel Pellegrini’s side fourth, a point above hosts Real Sociedad, fifth.

Betis goalkeeper Rui Silva made a brilliant save to claw away a 90th-minute header from Jon Magunazelaia, before Iglesias made the game safe.

Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Bilbao moved up to sixth with an impressive display to beat Quique Setien’s Villarreal 1-0 in a battle between two former Barcelona coaches, with Inaki Williams’s strike the decider.

It was Setien’s first league match in charge, following Unai Emery’s departure to Aston Villa.

“It was a hard-fought game and a nice one to watch, a game which strengthens us,” said Valverde.

“We had gone four games without winning and they are a direct rival for us, we had to change the dynamic and rebel against the situation.”


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