Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho congratulated Real Betis' players for their 1-0 Primera Division win over his side last night - but felt the champions were on the wrong end of two refereeing mistakes.
Benat Etxebarria's first-half strike dealt a heavy blow to Madrid's hopes of defending their title, the visitors dominating throughout but failing to find a way past Betis goalkeeper Adrian at the Estadio Benito Villamarin.
Karim Benzema had two goals dubiously ruled out for offside, and Mourinho was also aggrieved at Jesus Gil Manzano's decision to wave away a penalty appeal for handball in stoppage time.
"I congratulated the Betis players because they gave it their all and fought from the first minute to the last with great spirit and sacrifice," the former Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan boss said.
"They aren't to blame for Benzema's goal being ruled out or the clear penalty in the last minutes of the match and therefore they deserve my respect because they played better than Real Madrid.
"Despite benefiting from the referee's two mistakes, they deserved to win."
The defeat was Madrid's first in nine La Liga matches and left them eight points behind arch rivals Barcelona, who could stretch their lead even further at Levante tonight.
Mourinho held his hands up for the loss, saying: "Football is like that. When we win, we all win and some more than others, but when we lose the coach loses and therefore I am to blame. The players aren't to blame. I am."
The Portuguese urged the club's fans not to be too downhearted at the gulf between themselves and Barca in the standings.
"Last season we had 10 more points than our opponents in March and then we drew twice and the situation became more complicated," he said.
"Maybe at the end of the year we are 11, 13, nine, eight or 12 points behind. We are not going to be four, five or three points behind. It's wide open, but let's not be too optimistic nor too pessimistic.
"It's complicated, but I can't focus on just one competition. It's impossible. I think from one match to the next and the next match is the Copa del Rey, then La Liga and then it's the Champions League.
"But at this point last season our fans were optimistic, it's understandable that now they are pessimistic and think we can't go on to win."