First division - day 36
Deportivo La Coruña are out of the championship race after drawing 2-2 with Málaga. Irureta's side needed a victory to have any chance of catching leaders Valencia, but in the end they had to settle for a point which leaves them in third place, seven points adrift with only two games to play. Both sides lined up with makeshift defences due to injuries and suspensions, and Depor left Diego Tristán on the bench as he was not fully recovered from the injury which kept him out of Spain's match with Northern Ireland. The visitors caught their opponents by surprise around the half hour mark when Darío Silva ran on to Miguel Angel's pass to slide a shot under Molina, but Depor recovered with an equaliser by Naybet five minutes before the break after Makaay had headed Víctor's cross against the bar. Fran forced the ball past Contreras in the second half to put the home side in front, but with eight minutes to go Dely Vañdés fell under Scaloni's challenge and referee Téllez Sánchez awarded a hotly disputed penalty which Dely himself converted. Tempers were raised near the end, and Naybet got himself sent off for a second yellow card with three minutes to go. Málaga stay in eighth place a point off the UEFA spots, but bookings for Contreras, Gerardo and Darío Silva means they will probably be missing key players in their next match against Valencia.
Sunday was once again though the day that relegation issues were at stake, and defeats for Zaragoza and Tenerife leaves them close to the drop. Bottom club Tenerife have a foot and a half in the second division after losing 1-5 to Valladolid. With virtually nothing to play for the Castillian side were not expected to put up much of a fight. However within half an hour they were two up, with Fernando Sales and Luis García scoring past a sloppy defence. Luis García added a third in the second half, and although Marioni pulled one back a minute later, Fernando Sales and Chema completed the rout with two more goals in the last five minutes. Tenerife are now four points away from safety having lost five of their last six games, and Clemente's miracle looks like it is not going to come off.
Zaragoza lost 0-1 at home to Celta, who keep up the race with Barcelona for the fourth Champions League spot. It was a nervy game though, and the crowd turned on their players and management at the end of the ninety minutes, with supporters waiting outside the ground and only a strong police presence preventing any real trouble. The home side pegged the visitors back in their own half for the first 45 minutes, and Marcos Vales hit the foot of the post with a low shot before the interval. However Celta took the lead eight minutes after the restart, Jesuli's corner bouncing past everyone and in to the net past a startled Lainez. Milosevic did get the ball in the net near the end, but Losantos Omar ruled it out for a non existent offside. Zaragoza have now gone ten games without a win, and they have a difficult trip to relegation rivals Villarreal next week before the visit of Barcelona on the last day. Celta's better head-to-head record with Barcelona keeps them theoretically in fourth place, although the table currently reflects the general goal difference for now.
Osasuna moved out of the bottom three after defeating direct rivals Las Palmas 3-2. It was an exciting match in which referee Megia Dávila upset the local crowd with a controversial penalty late in the game for a supposed foul by Yanguas on Tevenet. The player himself converted the kick to level the scores for the second time, but then a defensive mistake let in Contreras for him to score the winner and take his side above their opponents and up to fifteenth place. Pablo Lago had headed the visitors into the lead midway through the first half, but goals by Iván Rosado and Puñal before the break had turned the game around before Tevenet's penalty.
Osasuna's victory leaves Mallorca down in the relegation zone. They lost at home 1-3 to Betis, and with their next game away at Real Madrid things are not looking good for Kresic's side. Benjamín gave the visitors the lead in the eighth minute with a powerful shot from outside of the area. However the real turning point came midway trough the first half when Leo Franco pushed Joao Tomas away from him while trying to clear the ball. It seemed an innocent move, but the Portuguese striker dived to the ground and referee Carmona Méndez instantly produced the red card for the keeper. Reserve goalkeeper Miki came on for Ibagaza, but with a man short the home side were out of it and Tomas made it two early in the second half. With ten minutes to go Amato came on and within seconds headed a third against his old club, and Luque got a late consolation goal for the home side with the stadium already half empty. The victory assures European football for Betis next season, and they could even make it to the Champions League spots if Barcelona or Celta falter.
The last UEFA spot is up for grabs as well though after the current incumbents Alavés lost 2-0 at Sevilla. Both goals came from young forward Víctor Salas, with the first following a Tomás corner just before the break and the second from Toedtli's pass in the second half. Casquero almost made it three with a free kick against the bar, and Alavés ended the match with ten men after Pablo got his marching orders after he and Téllez sandwiched Víctor late in the game. Mané's side stay in seventh spot for the time being, but only four points separate them from Sevilla and Espanyol in eleventh and twelfth place respectively, and any one of five teams could oust them from their berth.
One of those is Athletic Bilbao, although their presence in Europe seems less likely after they were beaten 4-2 by a Rayo Vallecano side who are well on the way to another season in the top flight. Jupp Heynckes' team have now gone six games without a win, and they never looked like threatening Rayo, who took the lead in the first half through Peragón in a set piece move. Bolic headed a second after the break and although Urrutia pulled one back with a spectacular volley, Michel restored the two goal cushion soon afterwards. Hernández and Urzaiz were sent off for fighting as tempers frayed, leaving both sides a man short, and referee Fernández Marín awarded a penalty to Rayo a few minutes later for a foul on Peragón which Corino tucked away. Ezquerro made the score look respectable volleying home Yeste's chipped pass at the end. (28.04.02).
Real Madrid virtually handed the first division title over to Valencia after losing 3-0 to Real Sociedad. Del Bosque's side were missing the suspended Hierro, Pavón and Guti, and with Morientes still out injured Munitis got himself another start. However the home side needed a win to move away from the relegation spots, and they forced Madrid onto the back foot right from the start, with Tayfun and Idiakez going close in the early minutes. The visitors weathered the storm though, and Munitis missed the chance of the match in the first minute of the second half when he rounded Westerveld only to shoot against the woodwork with the goal at his mercy. Madrid paid for their mistake a quarter of an hour later when a clumsy challenge by Iván Helguera on De Pedro gave the Basques a penalty which Kovacevic converted to put his side in front. Savio came on for Munitis and Raúl put a shot over and then hit the bar in quick succession. But the home side went further in front when a jinking run by Khokhlov ended with the Russian midfielder beating César from the edge of the area, and substitute De Paula joined in the fun with a third goal in injury time.
While Madrid were losing, Valencia fought their way back from a goal down with ten men to beat Espanyol 2-1 and move four points clear at the top. Rafa Benítez's men started well, with Mista having a shot cleared off the line by Roger and a motivated Baraja hitting the bar with a free kick. But Espanyol have become a bit of a bête noir at the Mestalla stadium, and they took the lead from a Tamudo penalty after Ayala was adjudged to have handled in the area. A couple of minutes later Carboni elbowed De Lucas in the face, and Medina Cantalejo had no hesitation in sending off the veteran left back. It appeared to be all over, but Valencia were not going to let the first league title in over 30 years slip out of their hands, and they threw caution to the winds. Only a reflex one handed save by Argensó kept out Rufete, and Baraja and Mista saw their efforts just go just wide. Then Benítez brought on Kily González for Vicente, and a minute later the Argentine winger played the ball in for Baraja to beat the keeper from close range. The ground was thick with tension as the home side relentlessly piled on the pressure, and it was Baraja again who finally hit the winner ten minutes from the end after another Kily assist. Espanyol were beaten, and a victory next week at Málaga will give the East coast side the league title. The dancing in the streets will go on until the early hours of the morning.
Talking about bêtes noirs, Barcelona faced one of theirs, a Villarreal side who have won in their only two visits in the league to the Nou Camp. Things were looking grim when Víctor opened the scoring for the visitors with a quarter of an hour gone, and after their defeat midweek the smallest crowd of the season gave their players a hard time as they came off the field at the break. However inspired by Saviola there was a complete turn-around in the second half, and the Catalans scored four times in a fifteen minute period to win the game 4-1. Luis Enrique started things off with a low shot after Saviola touched on Xavi´s through ball, and youngster Motta put his side in front a minute later with his first goal for the first team. Kluivert controlled Xavi's pass to score a third, and Saviola himself got the fourth after Kluivert's path was blocked by the keeper. The bad news were the injuries late in the game to Puyol and Luis Enrique, and both could miss next Wednesday's Champions League semi-final second leg in the Santiago Bernabeu. (27.04.02)