First division - day 35
Valencia fought their way back to the top of the first division with a tense but exciting 1-0 win over third placed Deportivo La Coruña. Real Madrid's victory the day before meant that Rafa Benítez's side had to win to keep ahead of their rivals, and a defeat would have taken them below Deportivo in the table. The home side started strongly, and within a quarter of an hour they had gone close four times, with Angulo shooting wide and Molina saving from Kily González. Depor were missing the suspended Mauro Silva and the injured Diego Tristán though, and the Spanish international striker's replacement Makaay shot wide when free in front of goal. Baraja hit the bar after the break with a spectacular overhead kick, and Makaay headed weakly into the hands of Cañizares at the other end soon after. Then with twenty minutes to go Valencia broke the deadlock when Duscher tried to clear Aimar's hard struck free kick, and only succeeded in deflecting it past his own keeper. Mista should have wrapped things up for the home side when he shot disastrously wide with only Molina to beat, but it didn't matter as the game ended soon afterwards. The win takes Valencia's unbeaten run to five games, and ends Depor's run of eight without defeat, and virtually takes Depor out of the championship race.
Betis consolidated their sixth position with a 3-0 win over Real Sociedad, and are now almost certain to be returning to Europe next season. The only doubt is whether they can get above Barcelona and Celta, both of whom are a point above them, to occupy the fourth Champions League spot rather than taking a place in the UEFA cup. It was a hot Sunday evening in Spain, and nowhere more so than Sevilla, where the match kicked off with temperatures above 30ºC. With under-21 international Dani still injured, Joao Tomas was given a start by Juande Ramos, and he took his chance to impress with two goals either side of half time. The Portuguese striker opened the scoring beating Westerveld with a low shot before the break, and headed home a cross from Tais after the restart. Benjamín added the third from the penalty spot on the hour mark after Jauregui tripped Joaquín in the area to send their opponents back down near the relegation spots in fifteenth place. The result could have been different though if the referee had not disallowed an early goal by Kovacevic for a non existent offside.
In fact only two points separate six sides who are fighting to avoid the last relegation spot. Osasuna are the unfortunate incumbents of eighteenth place at the moment after losing 1-0 to a Valladolid team who can now consider themselves safe for another season. The only goal of the game came twenty minutes in to the second half from Tote, returning to the side after being dropped last week, who took a pass from Fernando Sales to round Unzué and score from a wide angle. Neither side had been particularly adventurous up to that point, with the greatest danger for the two goalkeepers coming from their own defenders. The Pamplona based side now have a vital game next week at home to relegation rivals Las Palmas, finishing off the season with matches against Basque neighbours Bilbao and Alavés.
Osasuna stay three points ahead of bottom club Tenerife and two above Zaragoza, who looked even more like relegation material after losing 2-1 to Alavés. This was their ninth game without a win, and even the change of manager does not appear to have made much difference. Alavés took the lead somewhat fortunately in the tenth minute when Lainez, probably disturbed by the sun in his face, failed to get a clean touch on Jordi Cruyff's centre come shot, and could only push it against Rebosio for it to rebound in to the net. Geli celebrated his return to the Vitoria side with a goal from a well struck free kick just after half time to make it two, and although Marcos Vales pulled one back with a quarter of an hour to go, the visitors were unable to make any further headway. With visits from Celta and Barcelona to come, and a tricky away match at Villarreal in between, Alonso's side could be relegated for the first time in 24 years. Alavés move up two places to seventh, and are back on line for a return to Europe next season.
Another disappointing result for Athletic Bilbao means they drop out of the top seven, and Heynckes' side could miss out on Europe once again. They lost their third game in a row at their San Mames stadium, this time 0-1 to Sevilla, leaving their fans thoroughly disillusioned. Neither keeper was particularly bothered for most of the first half until Bilbao's Larrazábal received the ball unmarked in front of goal, but somehow his shot hit the bar and went out when it seemed impossible to miss. Let off the hook, the Andalucians punished their opponents in the second half, Gallardo running on to a diagonal pass from Víctor Salas to steer a low shot wide of Aranzubia. Sevilla's first win in eight games takes them on to 44 points, considered to be sufficient to ensure another season in the top flight.
Bilbao drop below Alavés and Málaga, who drew 0-0 against Mallorca in match which both really needed to win. With the two clubs having common shareholders, there was some suggestion in the local press that the result could be agreed beforehand. That was strongly denied by both sides, and the proof was on the pitch, where the game was hard fought with scoring chances at either end. Eto'o was let off his one match ban on appeal, and he went close early on for the visitors. Dely Valdés missed a sitter at the other end, and Zárate brought a good save out of Leo Franco before the break. Contreras did well to stop a deflected effort by Ibagaza after the interval, and Campano hit the bar with a free kick soon after Canabal shot wide with the goal at his mercy. Mallorca were reduced to ten men when substitute Engonga picked up two yellow cards within eight minutes of coming on, and they ended the day down in seventeenth place, only a point above Osasuna.
Espanyol also have an outside chance of taking seventh place after beating a poor Villarreal 3-1. They are only two points behind Málaga and Bilbao and four below Alavés, although they do have a difficult programme ahead, with games against Valencia and Barcelona coming up. Pacheco opened the scoring in the first half after Martín Posse's headed pass from a possible offside position, and Tamudo added the second with less than half an hour gone. Víctor Muñoz brought on Palermo, but this time his secret weapon was firing on blanks, and Espanyol substitute Palencia headed a third goal from an Alex free kick in the second half. Arruabarrena did get a consolation goal near the end, but his side are back to within two points of the relegation zone, and have a difficult visit to Barcelona next week. (21.04.02)
The two Spanish teams who meet in next Tuesday's Champions League semi-final, Barcelona and Real Madrid, both brought forward their games to Saturday to give them time to prepare for the big match. Real Madrid started the day in second place, and they put the pressure on leaders Valencia with an easy 4-1 victory over bottom club Tenerife. With Iván Helguera suspended and Zidane and Solari both injured playing for their countries midweek, Del Bosque made three changes, with Flavio and Munitis both making rare starts for the side. Roberto Carlos started off the scoring with a low free kick through a gap in the defensive wall which beat keeper Sergio Aragoneses with just over a quarter of an hour gone. However Javi Venta surprised César off his line on a rapid counter attack a few minutes before the break to level the scores. Their joy only lasted four minutes though before Figo headed Raúl's cross down past Aragoneses to restore the lead. Morientes picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Guti before the interval, and the midfielder turned striker staked his claim for a place in Tuesday's side with two goals in the second half, with crosses from the left wing by Roberto Carlos and Savio respectively. Tenerife's Bichi Fuertes got himself sent off for the second time in three games for insulting the referee, and his side now need a minor miracle to avoid relegation. Madrid go top pending Valencia's game at home to Deportivo on Sunday.
Celta moved above Barcelona on goal difference into the fourth Champions League spot with a 2-1 victory over their direct rivals in the Balaidos stadium. Rexach lined up a with a side which contained no Dutch players, with Kluivert and Cocu injured and Overmars, Frank De Boer and Reiziger on the bench. Mostovoi put the home side ahead turning in a cross from Cáceres past Bonano in the twenty-fifth minute. Both teams lost key players soon afterwards, with Vagner for the home side and Puyol for the visitors leaving the field with injuries. Gustavo López came on for Karpin after the break and added a second goal with a deflected shot from Mostovoi's short free kick within minutes. Rexach brought on Geovanni and Overmars to strengthen his attack, and Motta and then Luis Enrique both hit the bar in rapid succession. And then with a minute to go of normal time, a limping Rivaldo pulled one back with a glancing header from an Overmars cross. It was too late though to change the result, and the question now is who will be fit for the big match net Tuesday. Xavi and Figo are already suspended, and Puyol and Morientes will certainly not be there. Kluivert, Rivaldo, Cocu, Zidane and Solari are all waiting for fitness tests. It may all boil down to who has the fittest side.
Rayo Vallecano moved out of the relegation spots with their first away victory of the season, a 0-2 win at Las Palmas. The Madrid based side had two goals disallowed in the first half from Peragón and then Bolic, and then Etxeberria kept them in the game with saves from Jorge and Orlando. Then in the last minute of ordinary time Corino put the visitors in front from Peragón's corner, and with the game in injury time Peragón made it two from the penalty spot after Sarasúa pushed over substitute Bolo. Rayo move a point ahead of their rivals into fifteenth spot pending Sunday's games. (20.04.02)