BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Radamel Falcao struck a free kick in the 90th minute to give unbeaten Atletico Madrid a 1-0 victory at Real Sociedad on Sunday, extending its winning run to seven games to remain level with Barcelona at the top of the Spanish standings.
After being held in check until the very end, Falcao curled a perfect right-footed shot over the defensive wall to take his league scoring tally to nine goals, two behind leader Lionel Messi of Barcelona.
"Falcao pleaded to take the free kick," said Atletico coach Diego Simeone. "He has been practicing to improve his free kicks and today we saw the payoff. It was an exquisite strike."
Atletico has won 11 of 12 games in all competitions as Simeone continues to forge Spain's best chance of a side capable of mounting a challenge to Barcelona and Real Madrid's recent domestic dominance.
While Falcao was initially unable to get going in attack, he proved critical in Atletico's defense just before halftime when he blocked Antoine Griezmann's goal-bound shot with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois caught off his line.
The teams looked set to split the points when substitute Cristian Rodriguez earned a foul just outside the box, and Falcao made sure not to waste the game's last chance with a strike that left goalkeeper Enaut Zubikarai diving in vain.
Also on Sunday, Espanyol won its first game after eight rounds thanks to Christian Stuani's injury-time winner to beat Rayo Vallecano 3-2, while Miguel "Michel" Alfonso struck from long range three minutes from time to give Levante a 1-0 victory at Getafe.
Espanyol midfielder Joan Verdu made up for his early error that led to Leonardo Carrilho's 11th-minute opener by scoring from a long pass by Victor Sanchez in the 37th before adding a second goal three minutes after halftime.
Rayo appeared it would earn a draw when Carrilho scored for his own double in the 63rd.