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Champions Madrid held by Valencia
Dermot Ledwith
13:24 AEST Mon Aug 20 2012

Real Madrid's La Liga title defence has gotten off to a stuttering start after they dropped two crucial home points in a 1-1 draw with Valencia on a hot Sunday night in the Spanish capital.

Gonzalo Higuain put Real ahead on nine minutes before Jonas Goncalves equalised just before the interval for a plucky Valencia side.

Jose Mourinho decided to start with Higuain, leaving Karim Benzema on the bench, perhaps to reward the Argentine striker's decision to stay at the club over the summer.

Also surprising was Mourinho's decision to start with ex-Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Lass Diarra ahead of Sami Khedira.

Valencia's new coach Mauricio Pellegrino started with three new signings in Joao Pereira, Andres Guardado and ex-Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago.

"I expected more from my team, last season when we drew 0-0 the best player for Valencia was Guaita (the Valencia keeper) and today it has been Alves, we did not play a great game but we did enough to win," said Mourinho.

The game began with Cristiano Ronaldo taking less than two minutes to show his intent, cutting in from the left to fire a shot narrowly wide, but from that moment on the Portuguese star was subdued.

"It's not a great result. We played well the first half and better in the second, we could have scored one or two more goals but we have to continue like that and we'll be ok," said Ronaldo.

When Angel Di Maria went close on four minutes from long range it seemed that Madrid had never been away.

Indeed they looked to be coasting when they took the lead five minutes later.

Di Maria took advantage of a very high Valencia defensive line to float a perfect pass through to Higuain who found himself alone in front of Diego Alves in the Valencia goal.

He had so much time that the Valencia bench were convinced he was in an offside position and he saw two shots blocked by the Brazilian before finally converting at the third attempt to grab Madrid's first goal of the season.

Xabi Alonso then went close with a right-footed drive on 25 minutes and Fabio Coentrao almost made it 2-0, 10 minutes later.

Attacking sorties were so rare for Valencia that it was completely out of the blue when the equaliser came on 41 minutes.

Tino Costa floated a free-kick towards the home team's penalty spot and Jonas emerged out of a group of players to head home.

The Brazilian midfielder's brave attempt to reach the ball was timed so well that Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas and defender Pepe collided in mid-air and needed five minutes of treatment before the game could restart.

Pepe did not return for the second half and suddenly Valencia were in the ascendancy.

It was Di Maria, however, who should have put Madrid ahead after skipping clear of the Valencia defence on 53 minutes.

At the other end, Roberto Soldado was unlucky to be penalised for a very tight offside decision after putting the ball into the Madrid net.

Mourinho replaced Lass with an extra forward in Benzema on 61 minutes and Madrid's reaction was almost instant as Higuain hit the bar with a header and Mesut Ozil produced a good block from Alves.

Alves then denied Benzema twice, the second time with an acrobatic dive to tip a goalward bound shot wide.

Also on Sunday, Athletic Bilbao crashed 5-3 at home to Real Betis for whom Ruben Castro, Jorge Molina and Benat Extebarria got first-half goals.

Oscar de Marcos and a Mikel San Jose double levelled the game for Bilbao in a second-half fightback but Betis continued to look dangerous on the break and Alejandro Pozuelo and a second for Molina took the points back to Seville.

The match was played in a subdued atmosphere with Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa leaving out two key members of his squad, Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez, whose futures at the club remain uncertain.


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