Real Madrid could clinch their 31st Spanish league title next weekend after they beat Racing Santander 2-0 on Sunday, with their goals coming from captain Raul Gonzalez and Gonzalo Higuain.
They need to beat Athletic Bilbao next Sunday and have their nearest rivals Villarreal and Barcelona both drop points but their 10 point lead at the top of La Liga now makes the championship almost certain, whether sooner or later.
“Beating Racing brings the title closer but it's not ours yet,” warned Real coach Bernd Schuster, who also won titles with Real as a player in 1989 and 1990.
“However, I've got to be pleased with the way we defended against a very courageous team. They never stopped fighting and they put together some good attacks,” added Schuster.
Raul opened the scoring after 13 minutes, his 17th goal of the season, when he managed to get a touch to a swerving cross from the left wing by Robinho and divert the ball under the body of Racing goalkeeper Tono Rodriguez.
Racing immediately tried to respond but their repeated attacks were thwarted by Real's back four of Gabriel Heinze, Fabio Cannavaro, Pepe and Sergio Ramos.
Schuster has called the quartet “the best defence in the world” but injuries and suspensions have meant they have only played together once before in the league this season.
However, Real's four musketeers did briefly let their guard down at the end of the first half and Cesar Navas almost equalised with a header that just skimmed past the post of Real keeper Iker Casillas.
The hosts, seeking a win that would move them up a place into fourth, kept up the pressure at the start of the second half and Casillas had to pull off an excellent save to deny Mohamed Tchite not long after the break.
Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain ensured three points for Real in injury time when, with Racing pressing forward and leaving gaps at the back, he connected with a pass from fellow second-half substitute Javier Balboa on a quick counter-attack.
Goals from Nihat Kahveci and Santi Cazorla helped gave Villarreal a 2-0 victory over Valladolid and moved them up into second place behind Real earlier on Sunday.
“We are in second place and that's got to be our objective because it would beat all our previous records. We've got just five games to play and the advantage is ours,” said Villarrreal coach Manuel Pellegrini.
However, Pellegrini did concede that Real were probably too far ahead for his team to think about overhauling them at this stage in the season.
Nihat opened the scoring after 15 minutes when the Turkish international picked up a long pass from Cazorla and rounded Valladolid defender Alexis Suarez before hammering the ball home.
Cazorla then got himself on the scoresheet barely a minute after the break, after teaming up again with Nihat.
Villarreal are now one point ahead of third-placed Barcelona, who were held to a 0-0 draw with local rivals Espanyol on Saturday.
In the matches next weekend that could decide the title with four games remaining, Real play host to Athletic while Villarreal and Barcelona have tricky away trips to Real Betis and Deportivo la Coruna respectively.
At the other end of the table, bottom club Levante staved off relegation for a week thanks to a 3-1 win over beaten Spanish Cup finalists Getafe.
However, despite the victory, Levante are still 12 points away from safety.
If the Levante players carry out their threat to strike at Recreativo Huelva next Sunday over unpaid wages and bonuses, they will also forfeit that match and so be relegated.
Murcia lie second from bottom and look set to join Levante in the Spanish second division next season after crashing 4-1 at home to Real Mallorca, with Spanish international Daniel Guiza getting a hat-trick for the visitors.
Athletic Bilbao humiliated Valencia 5-1, a result that could lead to Ronald Koeman's departure in the coming days despite his men winning the Spanish Cup on Wednesday.
Valencia, the 2002 and 2004 Spanish champions and also Champions League finalists twice in the last decade, are now only two points above the relegation zone after winning just once in their last 10 games.
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