BARCELONA, Spain — Vinícius Júnior scored twice to lift Real Madrid to 2-2 against Valencia in the Spanish league on Saturday in his first return to Mestalla Stadium where he was racially abused last season.

Jude Bellingham was red-carded after the final whistle when he protested the referee's decision to waive off what would have been the winning goal. The referee said time expired just before Bellingham's last-gasp header.

Vinícius struck in the 50th and 76th minutes to wipe out first-half goals by Hugo Duro and Roman Yaremchuk.

Last May’s racial attack was among the worst the Black player has had to repeatedly endure in Spain. It led to an upswell of support for the Brazil forward and forced soccer authorities to take action, even though the abuse toward him has continued.

While there were no immediate reports of more racial insults on Saturday, a large group of spectators did chant “Vinícius is stupid” and booed him loudly throughout.

After his first goal, Vinícius held up his fist toward the Valencia fans behind the goal. After his equalizer, he cupped his ears as if asking for more from the fans who jeered him.

While Valencia banned three fans for life from its stadium after they were identified as having racially abused Vinícius last season, the club has likewise criticized the player and Madrid for what it considers the unfair categorization of its fanbase as predominantly racist.

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior celebrates after scoring his side's first...

Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Mestalla Stadium in Valencia, Spain, Saturday, March 2, 2024. Credit: AP/Jose Breton

In a short interview with Madrid's club television, Vinícius did not mention the fans and said only that it was “a very difficult game.” But on his Instagram account he posted an image of himself raising his fist after his first goal with the short message “The fight continues.”

“Vinícius played a very good game,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “He was decisive for us, even though he was more effective in the area than outside it. (Defender Dimitri) Foulquier played a great game defending him, so he had to find his spaces inside the area and he scored two very important goals for us.”

Madrid leads the league with a seven-point advantage over Girona and a nine-point advantage over Barcelona before they both play games on Sunday.

Duro used his head to redirect in what looked like an errant shot by Fran Pérez in the 27th after Federico Valverde lost the ball with a risky pass.

Valencia's Fran Perez challenges Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior during the...

Valencia's Fran Perez challenges Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior during the La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Mestalla Stadium in Valencia, Spain, Saturday, March 2, 2024. Credit: AP/Jose Breton

Three minutes later, Yaremchuk intercepted Dani Carvajal’s pass back toward his own area, where the Ukraine forward pounced, dribbled around goalkeeper Andriy Lunin and rolled the ball home.

But Madrid was able to grab one back in first-half added time when Carvajal’s cross grazed three players before finding Vinícius to push it home. Vinícius made it even when he headed in a cross from substitute Brahim Díaz.

Valencia defender Mouctar Diakhaby was carried off on a stretcher after an apparent leg injury when Aurélien Tchouaméni crashed into him in the final minutes.

BELLINGHAM SENT OFF

Bellingham, who leads the league with 16 goals, started for Madrid after missing three games with an ankle sprain.

The England midfielder was celebrating what would have been a last-gasp header when referee Jesús Gil Manzano signaled it came too late. Surrounded by protesting Madrid players, Gil Manzano showed a red card to Bellingham.

Gil Manzano put in his referee report that Bellingham had “run toward him in an aggressive manner shouting repeatedly" with an expletive in English to describe the goal.

FIRE VICTIMS

The game was Valencia’s first in two weeks after its match in the last round was postponed in respect for the victims of a deadly fire in the Mediterranean city.

Both teams formed an honor guard before kickoff for representatives of the victims and security and rescue services and a moment of silence.

SOCIEDAD LOSES

Real Sociedad lost at Sevilla 3-2 as the Basque Country club continued to struggle before it hosts Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.

Sociedad hosts PSG on Tuesday needing to overturn a 2-0 first-leg loss in the round of 16.

Imanol Alguacil’s Sociedad started the season strong, but it has lost five of its last six games across all competitions. It was eliminated from the Copa del Rey semifinals by Mallorca on penalties in front of its fans in San Sebastian this week.

MAYORAL HURT

Getafe striker Borja Mayoral, who has 15 league goals, had to be substituted late in his team's 3-3 draw with Las Palmas due to an apparent left leg injury.

Getafe wasted leads of 2-0 and 3-2. Las Palmas completed its comeback with Munir El Haddadi’s decisive equalizer.

HAIL STORM

Rayo Vallecano’s 1-1 draw at home with Cadiz was paused for several minutes in the second half when hail pelted the field during a heavy rainstorm.

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