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.
But fellow substitute Sergio Garcia, making his debut after returning from injury, picked out Stuani with a cross for the striker to head home and grab the much-needed win for Espanyol.
"We deserved this shot of adrenaline, it was important to win and to do so in this way is more heroic and thrilling," said Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino, who had been under growing pressure to turn things around for the Barcelona-based club.
Getafe had shown more scoring intent at Alfonso Perez coliseum, but Levante's defense held firm until Michel went on as a substitute in the 73rd and hit a looping effort from 25 meters out over the goalkeeper to grab the three points.
It was Levante's first away win after losing its first three outings on the road.
"I saw the ball and wanted to shoot right away because I hadn't had a shot in the entire game," said Michel. "A draw would have been fair, but the game was decided with that one shot."
Elsewhere, Zaragoza won 2-1 at Granada to break a two-game losing streak, while Osasuna fell past Espanyol into last place after being held to a 0-0 draw at home by Real Betis.
On Saturday, Lionel Messi scored a hat trick to lead Barcelona to a 5-4 win at Deportivo La Coruna. Real Madrid eased to a 2-0 home victory over Celta Vigo. Valencia rallied to beat 10-man Athletic Bilbao 3-2, and Malaga came from behind to down Real Valladolid 2-1 to remain in third place, five points behind Barcelona and Atletico.
Sevilla hosts Mallorca on Monday in a matchup of two teams in need of a win to stay near the top of the table after losing two straight games following undefeated starts.