La Liga: Valencia ends Real Madrid's 22-match winning streak
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Valencia ended Real Madrid's 22-game winning streak by fighting back for a 2-1 victory on Sunday that throws open the Spanish league title race.
Cristiano Ronaldo extended his stunning tally to 26 league goals in the 14th minute at Mestalla Stadium when he stroked in a penalty kick following Alvaro Negredo's handball.
But the hosts rallied through a goal by Antonio Barragan in the 52nd before defender Nicolas Otamendi fended off Sergio Ramos to head home the 65th-minute winner.
"We have been training all week for this," said Otamendi. "This was a key game to start 2015."
Madrid still has a game in hand, but Barcelona can take the provisional lead with a win at Real Sociedad later. Defending champion Atletico Madrid was also left one point behind the pacesetters.
Madrid had not lost or drawn a game in any competition since a 2-1 defeat to Atletico on Sept. 13, setting a Spanish record for consecutive wins.
Carlo Ancelotti's team must recover quickly for a second tough outing at Atletico on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey.
"You can't take anything away from Valencia," Ramos said. "It stings to lose the three points and see our run end, but the league is long. We weren't singing victory before nor are we going to blow the league now. They played their style, they knew how to gather more players in the midfield, and they took the points."
Valencia's first win in six visits by Madrid lifted it into fourth place, the league's last Champions League spot that the club has set as its goal for the season.
Valencia's players lined up to give Madrid an honor guard for winning the Club World Cup last month, a gesture not appreciated by most of its fans who jeered as the visitors marched onto the pitch.
Manager Nuno Espirito Santo opted to load Valencia's midfield with five players— including a debut for new arrival Enzo Perez— and play with a three-man defense.
That set up a fascinating matchup between Gareth Bale and Valencia defender Lucas Orban. The speedy Wales winger provided Madrid's most dangerous threat early on before the Argentine got the better of him in the second half.
Valencia's vigorous push in the opening minutes was undone when Negredo used his arm to block a headed pass by Bale, letting Ronaldo step up and slot the spot kick inside the post.
The first half then went from intense to testy, and the referee booked seven players before Valencia midfielder Andre Gomes mustered the host's only scoring opportunity before halftime. Gomes fired a long strike that deflected off a Madrid player before hitting the post.
Valencia continued to push for an equalizer after the restart and found it after Gomes went close again by firing a loose ball just by the upright.
Orban this time won the ball from Bale, leading to substitute Jose Gaya finding Barragan to unleash a long shot that hit Pepe to leave Iker Casillas helpless to stop it from reaching his net.
Bale was left to rue a breakaway that he couldn't convert against goalie Diego Alves in the 59th when Otamendi rose to thump a corner kick over Casillas.
Barragan missed another golden chance to secure the win late, and Valencia needed Diego Alves to save Francisco "Isco" Alarcon's header with five to go.
Rayo Vallecano also came from behind for a 2-1 victory at crosstown rival Getafe in the Spanish capital earlier on Sunday.
Espanyol hosts Eibar also later.