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 Sunday, September 1, 2002 19:40 EST

Valencia edges Real Mallorca in opener

[Reuters]

MADRID -- Valencia opened the defense of its title with an impressive 2-0 win at Real Mallorca in the Spanish first division.

Rafael Benitez's side bounced back after a disappointing 4-0 aggregate defeat by Deportivo Coruna in the Spanish Super Cup, with goals from Gonzalo de los Santos and Ruben Baraja to seal a confident winner against the islanders.

Depor was brought back down to earth after they were dealt a comprehensive 4-2 home defeat by a sparkling Real Betis inspired by fine performances from new signings Marcos Assuncao and Alfonso.

Alfonso's old club Barcelona was unfortunate to be held to a 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp by a battling Atletico Madrid, which returns to the top flight after two seasons in the second division.

Barca took an early lead through Luis Enrique when he poked home at the far post after some slack Atletico defending, but the visitors pulled level on the stroke of halftime when defender Jorge Otero's cross-shot swerved into the goal.

Luis Enrique claimed a brilliantly-worked second 10 minutes after the break when he slotted home after exchanging passes with Javier Saviola, but Atletico grabbed a point four minutes from time when substitute Fernando Correa slammed in at the far post.

Fine individual performances in a goal-packed opening weekend came from Malaga's Kizito Musampa and Real Sociedad's Turkish international Nihat Kahveci.

Musampa scored a hat trick to help his side come from two goals behind to claim a 3-2 win over newly promoted Recreativo Huelva and Kahveci masterminded a 4-2 over Athletic Bilbao in the Basque derby.

Valencia produced a typically determined performance to deny opponents Mallorca control in the midfield and were given an early boost by De los Santos's early strike.

The Uruguayan midfielder drilled home from the edge of the area after good work by Pablo Aimar and Francisco Rufete.

Mallorca had several clear chances to level, but lost its nerve in front of goal with Alvaro Novo and new signing Walter Pandiani sending point-blank headers wide of the mark.

Valencia then took complete control after the break with Baraja adding a superbly taken second on 57 minutes.

Controlling a sweeping pass with his chest the Spanish international then cracked home a volley that fizzed past goalkeeper Leo Franco into the top corner.

Aimar could have increased the lead late on, but shot straight at Franco after escaping the attentions of the Mallorca defense.

Betis gave the most impressive display of the day as they dismantled Depor at the Riazor.

Former Roma midfielder Assuncao made an outstanding debut scoring with a rocketing first-time shot on 20 minutes and hit the woodwork twice more during the game.

Striker Alfonso weighed in with a penalty and Arzu and the ever-impressive Joaquin hit the others in an open and free-flowing game.

SCOTLAND: Claudio Caniggia scored a hat trick as Rangers thrashed Dunfermline 6-0 in the Scottish Premier League on Sunday, but champion Celtic still lead the table after a 2-0 win over Livingston.

Mikel Arteta, Fernando Ricksen and captain Barry Ferguson scored Rangers' other goals as they enjoyed their biggest league win of the season at Dunfermline's East End Park stadium.

"I'm trying to look for a fault in the team -- being a perfectionist -- but I thought all the players were excellent today," Rangers manager Alex McLeish told reporters.

"A number of players could have won the man-of-the-match and we had great performers all round. There was great team spirit and that's the kind of application I'm looking for at Rangers."

Celtic maintained a two-point lead over their city rivals thanks to first-half goals from Swedish striker Henrik Larsson and French defender Bobo Balde.

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill was happy with his side in their first game since losing on away goals to Swiss team FC Basle in the Champions League final qualifying round.

"We were relatively comfortable. Livingston had a few chances but so did we," said O'Neill, whose side have a 100 percent league record after five successive wins.

"Overall, I'm satisfied and very pleased considering the disappointment of losing in Europe.

"Young Shaun Maloney came on and I thought he had an excellent 20 minutes. It was also pleasing to have Alan Thompson back from injury."

Hearts remained third in the table on nine points after a 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock, who stayed fourth.

Paul McMullan gave the home side the lead but Kilmarnock -- who had Sean Hessey sent off for illegal use of an elbow -- equalized through Kris Boyd.

Newly-promoted Partick Thistle are in joint fifth position with Dunfermline after a David Lilley goal gave them a 1-0 win at Aberdeen in Sunday's other game.

Rangers expected a tough match against Dunfermline but were never threatened after Caniggia rounded home goalkeeper Marco Ruitenbeek to open the scoring on 11 minutes.

The visitors went two goals ahead when Arteta smashed home his first goal for Rangers from outside the box on 27 minutes.

Ricksen made it three as Dunfermline failed to clear a corner kick and the Dutch defender drilled the ball low into the corner of the net on 41 minutes.

The second half brought more sustained pressure from Rangers and Ferguson scored a penalty on 55 minutes after Scott Wilson fouled Shota Arveladze in the area.

Caniggia scored a further two goals in the second half -- both from inside the area -- with the impressive Arteta involved in the build-up work to both goals.

Celtic also had a comfortable win against Livingston. Larsson opened the scoring with a header and Balde forced the ball over the line after a frantic scramble to complete a win watched by a crowd of over 55,000 at Celtic Park.

Livingston had chances, with Eugene Dadi and David Bingham both going close but Celtic was worthy of the three points.

Hibs recorded its first league win of the season on Saturday with Derek Townsley scoring twice in a 2-0 win at Motherwell, while the Dundee derby ended goalless.

HOLLAND: Champions Ajax Amsterdam went top of the Dutch first division after beating bottom side Groningen 3-1 with two Rafael van der Vaart goals.

Ajax pipped RKC Waalwijk, who beat Twente Enschede 3-2 on Friday, for the top spot on goal difference. Both sides have the maximum nine points from three matches.

Ajax had few problems at Groningen and the game was already as good as over by halftime after Van der Vaart hit the net in the 13th and 40th minutes following Groningen mistakes in midfield.

In the 48th minute Andy van der Meyde made it 3-0 with a header from a Victor Sikora cross.

Groningen scored its consolation goal 15 minutes from the end when Hugo netted the ball from the rebound after Pius Ikedia, loaned by Ajax to Groningen, had his shot blocked by goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.

Groningen stayed bottom as the only team in the Dutch league without points.

Newly promoted RBC Roosendaal pulled off a surprise 3-0 win against Heerenveen on Sunday and Zwolle beat Vitesse Arnhem 1-0 on Saturday.

Europe: Valladolid escapes with late win in Spanish opener

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