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Spanish title race continues with Madrid, Villarreal
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Real Madrid players celebrate after their Spanish First Division soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid April 27, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

Real Madrid players celebrate after their Spanish First Division soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid April 27, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

Javier Saviola, Arjen Robben and Gonzalo Higuain scored on Sunday to help Real Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 3-0 and maintain its 10-point lead in the Spanish league.

However, Madrid's hopes of clinching the title on Sunday were thwarted when second-place Villarreal won 1-0 at Real Betis and kept the race alive.

Villarreal's Marcos Senna scored a spectacular 16th-minute goal when he lofted the ball from just inside the Betis half to catch goalkeeper Casto Espinosa off his line.

Madrid had already made plans with Madrid's city hall for celebrating immediately after the game at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. Fans were to gather at the downtown statue of the goddess Cybele around which the club's scarf would have been tied by captain Raul Gonzalez.

The team will now be proclaimed champion next Sunday at lowly Osasuna if it equals or betters Villarreal's result against Getafe the same day.

With four rounds remaining, Madrid has 75 points, while Villarreal has 65. FC Barcelona, which lost 2-0 at Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday, follows with 61.

Also, Levante became the first team to be relegated this season when it lost 2-0 to Recreativo Huelva.

Levante, which last played in the second division two seasons ago, has 25 points, 13 from safety.

Other results Sunday were: Espanyol 1, Zaragoza 1; Getafe 1, Atletico Madrid 1; Mallorca 3, Racing Santander 1; Valencia 3, Osasuna 0; and Valladolid 1, Almeria 0.

Madrid scored in the 14th minute when Saviola celebrated his recall to the team by pouncing after Bilbao goalkeeper Armando Ribeiro spilled Robinho's low shot.

Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas then made acrobatic saves to deny Joseba Etxeberria and Joseba Garmendia around the half-hour mark, and excelled again when he parried Garmendia's penalty in the 37th.

Higuain and Robben came off the bench in the 72nd minute and made an immediate impact, with Higuain's low cross turned home by the Dutchman two minutes later.

Higuain then angled a curling shot past Armando for the third goal in the 76th.

Bilbao welcomed back defensive midfielder Carlos Gurpegi after he completed a two-year suspension for testing positive for the banned steroid nandrolone.

Betis dominated the second half with striker Jose Mari Romero, a former Villarreal player, coming close to scoring on several occasions.

Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez then made several important saves, the most impressive being when he denied defender Juanito Gutierrez in the 79th minute.

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