Real end week of turmoil with win over Atletico
MADRID, Mar 4 (Reuters) Real Madrid put a week of turmoil behind them with a gutsy and determined performance to earn a 2-1 win over city rivals Atletico Madrid today.
An early headed goal from Antonio Cassano and a close-range strike from Julio Baptista gave Real a victory that ended Atletico's six-match winning run and provided a valuable boost after Florentino Perez's shock resignation as president.
The win lifted Real into second place, seven points behind champions Barcelona who host Deportivo Coruna in Saturday's late match at the Nou Camp.
Earlier, Argentine playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme gave an inspired performance with two goals to lead Villarreal to a 3-2 comeback win at home to struggling Alaves that set them up nicely for next week's Champions League match against Rangers.
New Real president Fernando Martin's hard-line declarations after taking over from Perez seemed to have an immediate effect on the players as they flew out of the blocks at the Bernabeu and took the lead with a little over four minutes on the clock.
Italy striker Cassano, starting a league match for the first time since joining Real in January, headed home unopposed at the far post after Roberto Carlos charged down the left wing and whipped a perfect cross into the area.
However, the goal did not stop Real's ultra fans unfurling a banner in the 15th minute bearing the phrase ''Florentino, you aren't to blame. Mercenaries out of this great club.'' CASSANO MENACE With striker Ronaldo watching from the stands after being dropped from the squad this week, Cassano appeared determined to take his chance and his lively running was a constant menace to the Atletico defence.
But just as Real looked to be taking control, Atletico hit back with a clever finish from Mateja Kezman who wrong-footed home keeper Iker Casillas when he back-heeled a Peter Luccin drive into the net after a corner just before the half hour.
Kezman then had a great chance to put Atletico ahead but lashed the ball over the bar with the goal at his mercy and moments later Real restored their lead after a marvellously worked counter-attack five minutes before halftime.
Zinedine Zidane found David Beckham on the right and the England captain rode one challenge before whipping the ball towards the near post where Julio Baptista poked home.
Atletico had the better of the second half and pinned Real in their own area for the last quarter, but without influential playmaker Ariel Ibagaza and in-form forward Maxi Rodriguez were unable to put the finishing touch to some promising attacks.
Real skipper Raul, who has recently returned from a three-month injury layoff, replaced Cassano late in the second period to make his 400th Primera Liga appearance.
REUTERS DH RAI0322