Real held but Zizou still positive

Real Madrid's coach Zinedine Zidane looks on during the Spanish league football match on Jan 24, 2016.
Real Madrid's coach Zinedine Zidane looks on during the Spanish league football match on Jan 24, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

MADRID • Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane insisted he was proud of his side's display despite slipping further behind Barcelona in the Spanish Primera Liga title race with a 1-1 draw at Real Betis on Sunday.

His team had cruised to victory in his first two games in charge since replacing Rafael Benitez earlier this month, scoring five goals against Deportivo La Coruna and Sporting Gijon.

However, Los Blancos were stunned by Alvaro Cejudo's early opener and, despite dominating the match, could only reply through Karim Benzema's 21st goal of the season 19 minutes from time.

"I am very proud of what they did tonight, we're just missing two more points," said the Frenchman, who is nicknamed Zizou. "We are on the right track and we need to take the positives.

"It is clear losing two points is the negative thing, but there were some very good things tonight and we need to take those positives forward and fight until the end."

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid now lead Real (44 points) by four points at the top of the table, while Barca also have a game in hand on both capital-based sides.

"I didn't expect (to drop two points) but football is like that. If you don't take your chances, anything can happen," Zidane added.

Betis had not scored in their previous seven games, but needed just seven minutes to make the breakthrough. Keylor Navas made a fine save to block Ruben Castro's first effort, but the ball eventually fell to Cejudo on the edge of the area and he volleyed into the top corner.

Real responded well to going behind. Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe both missed glorious chances to equalise before half-time.

Benzema did finally level from James Rodriguez's cutback, but Antonio Adan made brilliant saves from Rodriguez and Benzema to salvage a point for Betis.

At Deportivo's Riazor Stadium, Valencia needed a last-gasp Alvaro Negredo goal to rescue a point.

Valencia, who last won in La Liga at the start of November, are mired down in 11th, eight points adrift of the European qualification places.

"The fans want victories and I am desperate to give them to them," Valencia manager Gary Neville told a news conference. "I am not happy about today's result, a draw can never make a coach of Valencia happy."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2016, with the headline 'Real held but Zizou still positive'. Print Edition | Subscribe