First division, day 38
Real Madrid are the new league champions! Del Bosque's side ran out 3-1 winners over Athletic Bilbao to make sure of their 29th league title. With Real Sociedad close on their heels, Madrid couldn't afford a slip up. Athletic themselves were going flat out, needing a victory to secure a place in the UEFA cup and also looking to dedicate to a victory to their president Javier Uria, who died of cancer a couple of days ago. But the "equipo galactico" had things under control, and Ronaldo put them ahead in the ninth minute after Figo and Roberto Carlos worked a play down the left wing. For a few minutes Athletic got back in the game, and Alkiza caught Casillas off guard with a long shot over Hierro's head to level the scores. But in injury time of the first half, Roberto Carlos struck a free kick through the defensive wall to restore the lead. It was a crucial blow, and Ronaldo made it three in the second half after Zidane put him though to make sure of the title. Celebrations went on long into the night, fireworks display included. All this, and Beckham to come!
Real Sociedad did what they had to do, but it was not enough. Their 3-0 win over Atlético Madrid kept the pressure on Madrid, but in the end they stayed two points behind the champions. The Basque side appeared nervous in the first half, with de Pedro missing an easy chance in front of the returning Mono Burgos and Aranburu putting another chance wide. But Kovacevic put the home fans' minds at rest with a goal early in the first half, and De Pedro made it two a few minutes later. Probably for the first time in their history the San Sebastian crowd chanted the names of their arch rivals Athletic, but when news came through that they had fallen further behind in Madrid, the atmosphere died. Even so Nihat added a third, and the home supporters gave their side a standing ovation at the end for what has been their best season in 20 years.
Athletic's demise was Barcelona's gain, and the Catalans' 2-0 victory over Celta gave them that last UEFA spot ahead of the Basque side. Newly elected president Joan Laporta was in the directors' box for the first time to see his side record their fourth win in a row to keep up their unique ever-present record in Europe. Antic decided to play Sorín further forward on the left of midfield, and he opened the scoring in the seventh minute after Kluivert headed on Saviola's cross. Both sides were left with ten men before half time after Angel was sent off for an elbow on Frank De Boer and Kluivert for hitting out at the under 21 international in the ensuing fracas. But Saviola added a second goal after the break to keep up Barcelona's proud record, and free them of the obligation to play the Intertototo cup this summer.
Villarreal were grateful for the news of Barcelona's success as that meant they would take the first Intertoto spot and thereby avoid a first game in two weeks' time, always provided that the Federation allows them to play the competition (as they did last season). They should have finished in the first eleven spots to qualify, but a 1-4 defeat at the hands of Betis meant that they ended the season down in fifteenth place. Guayre gave them hope of victory with an early strike, but two goals each from Dani and Joaquín either side of half time gave the visitors a win and a well merited eighth place. (22.06.03)
The last round of matches of a long season, with six games with nothing at stake taking place on a hot Saturday evening to clear the stage for Sunday's big climax.
Deportivo La Coruña were already assured of third place, and they ended the season with a 2-1 win against Espanyol which actually gives them more points than when they won the title. The Gallicians had to come back from behind to do so though, Roger putting the visitors in front in the twelfth minute with a long shot which beat third choice keeper Dani Mallo. Two goals in a minute in the second half turned the result around though, Makaay equalling Bebeto's club record with his 29th of the season, and then setting up Luque for the winning goal immediately afterwards. Depor's Donato was presumably playing his last game for Irureta's side, and he was given a standing ovation as he left the field just before half time.
Valencia also ended their season with a victory after beating Sevilla 0-3 at a Sánchez Pizjuan stadium where the temperature was around 40ºC at kick off. Caparrós gave a first run out to reserve keeper Caballero, but he didn't have the best of debuts. Aimar caught him out with a long shot which bounced awkwardly with twenty minutes on the clock, and then Juan Sánchez took advantage of his half-hearted challenge to head a second goal before the break. Meanwhile Palop in the visiting goal was demonstrating once again that he is more than adequate cover for Cañizares with some fine saves, particularly from Reyes. Sánchez scored his second of the night after the break from Rufete's pass, and Rufete, Aimar and Soriano all hit the woodwork as Valencia kept up the pressure to the end.
An injury time strike from substitute Tuni gave Mallorca a 1-0 win over Málaga, taking Gregorio Manzano's side up to eighth place. The manager used the occasion to try out his cup final side, missing only Samuel Eto'o who is on international duty with Cameroon but who will return for next Saturday's big event, but they were unable to break down a Málaga side who were missing four players through suspension. The introduction of the young striker changed things though, and he rounded Fernando Sanz to beat Arnau for a late win. Málaga manager Joaquín Peiró wasn't there to watch though as he was suffering from depression after being told his contract was not being renewed next season.
Five goals at the Sardinero stadium, where Osasuna beat Racing Santander 2-3 to take eleventh spot pending Sunday's games. Muñoz put Aguirre's side ahead, and although Javi Guerrero pulled one back a few minutes later, young striker Brit headed the visitors back in front before the break. John aloisi came in the second half to put the Pamplona based side further ahead, but Guerrero scored his second of the night at the end to set up a tight finish. Racing announced afterwards that they would be applying for an Intertoto Cup spot if there is one available after Sunday's games.
A sad game in Vallecas, where Rayo Vallecano and Recreativo Huelva both took their bows from the top flight. It was a game to forget, with the only chances falling to the visitors. But Gallego missed an open goal early in the first half, and Javi García hit the bar after the interval. Recre at least have the cup final to look forward to next week, but the few Rayo fans who turned up trudged home dejectedly.
Alavés also said goodbye to the first division with a 1-1 draw against Valladolid. The best thing about the match were the goals, Aganzo getting away from Abelardo and Karmona before beating Bizzarri late in the first half, and Pablo making it all square after connecting with Geli's cross after the restart. Oscar González hit the post for the visitors near the end, but nobody really cared by then whether it went in or not. (21.06.03)