Vazquez sends Madrid to La Liga summit with late winner at Alaves

Real Madrid’s Brazilian forward #11 Rodrygo 5C’ fights for the ball with Alaves’ Spanish defender #03 Ruben Duarte (L) and Alaves’ Spanish defender #16 Rafa Marin during the Spanish league football match between Deportivo Alaves and Real Madrid CF at the Mendizorroza stadium in Vitoria on December 21, 2023. AFP

Lucas Vazquez sent 10-man Real Madrid to the top of La Liga with a 92nd-minute winner in Thursday’s 1-0 victory at Alaves.

Defender Vazquez headed home to lift Madrid above Girona to the number one spot after this season’s surprise packages were held to a 1-1 draw at Real Betis earlier in the day.

Basque hosts Alaves frustrated Madrid even before the Spanish giants’ defender Nacho Fernandez was sent off 10 minutes after the break.

With the clock going into second-half injury time, it looked like Girona would lead the Spanish top-flight going into 2024 thanks to Madrid’s draw, but 32-year-old Vazquez had other plans.

Experienced Germany midfielder Toni Kroos whipped in a corner and Vazquez opened his account for the season with a free header, as Los Blancos top the table on goal difference before La Liga takes a break until January 2.

In Seville, Artem Dovbyk’s first-half penalty, the Ukrainian’s 11th goal of the season, looked to have Girona heading for a fourth straight win and ninth victory in their last 10 matches.

But German Pezzella, a World Cup winner with Argentina, levelled with two minutes to play as Betis extended their unbeaten run to 13 games — nine of which have been draws.

Girona, the club part-owned by the owners of Manchester City, dropped points for only the fourth time in 18 games this season.

Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga made a smart double save from Willian Jose and Ayoze Perez in the first half before the visitors struck after Savio was fouled in the area by Aitor Ruibal.

Dovbyk stepped up and calmly rolled home the spot-kick to continue his fine debut season in Spain.

But Girona, making an unlikely title push in only their fourth season in the top flight, failed to clear a late corner and Pezzella slammed the loose ball beyond Gazzaniga.

Elsewhere, Real Mallorca beat Osasuna 3-2 for just their third win of the season, sending them five points clear of the relegation zone.

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