First division, week 36
Valencia are the new league champions! Rafa Benítez's side took advantage of the slips by Real Madrid and Barcelona to finish things off at the first opportunity, their 0-2 victory in Sevilla enough to take them seven points clear at the top of the table with two games to go. Vicente started things off in the eleventh minute, picking up a back-heel pass from Xisco and charging half the length of the pitch before shooting low past Esteban, and Baraja wrapped things up with a goal in the last minute to ensure a second title in three years for the East coast side. Coming just three days after they reached the UEFA cup final, it has been a wonderful week for the Chés.
Although the top honours are now decided, there are several issues still at stake. Sevilla's defeat means they lose ground on their rivals for the two UEFA cup spots, although in the end it wasn't so bad as the current incumbents Athletic Bilbao and Atlético Madrid were both held to draws. Athletic were surprised by an Albacete side who are almost ensured their place in the top flight next season, and only a late penalty by Iraola saved a point in a 1-1 draw. The Manchegans had also scored from the penalty spot earlier in the second half, Pacheco converting the kick after Fernando Navarro was brought down.
Atlético Madrid were close to an epic victory against Racing Santander after playing for almost an hour with ten men, but a last minute header from Afek saved a 2-2 draw for the Cantabrians. Ibagaza put the visitors ahead a few minutes before Novo was sent off, and although Cristian Alvarez equalised with a well struck free kick after the break, De los Santos restored the lead only two minutes later. The game was overshadowed though by the serious illness of Atlético president Jesús Gil, who was rushed to hospital a few hours before the match.
Villarreal bounced back from their midweek UEFA cup defeat at the hands of Valencia to beat Betis 1-0 and move up to seventh spot, within a point of Atlético Madrid. Referee Pérez Lasa controversially disallowed two first half goals from Guayre and Víctor, but the home side finally got one that counted when José Marí picked up a pass from Riquelme to beat Prats in the second half. The defeat takes Betis out of the running for the European places this season.
Málaga also took advantage of the poor results by the teams above them to move to within two points of sixth place thanks to a 1-0 win over already relegated Real Murcia. It was not an easy victory though, and John Toshack's side wasted three or four chances to go ahead in the first half. Miguel Angel got the only goal of the game after the break, heading home Edgar's corner for three points that they probably didn't deserve.
Excitement down at the bottom of the table, where any one of six sides could fill the last two relegation spots. Espanyol followed in Celta's footsteps from the day before and climbed out of the bottom three for the first time in 32 weeks after beating Deportivo La Coruña 2-0. With nothing to play for and a gruelling Champions League defeat fresh in their minds, the Galicians put out a weakened line up, and they fell behind early on when Pochettino picked up a pass from De la Peña to score. And De la Peña added a second himself after the restart to give his side some hope at last.
Valladolid take the Catalans' place in the bottom three after they drew 2-2 with Real Sociedad. It was a controversial match, with referee Megía Davila sending off three players from the home side, Peña in the first half and Chema and Ricchetti near the end, and also awarding two hotly disputed penalties. The first was in favour of the home side shortly after Gabilondo had opened the scoring for the Basques, and although Bizzarri crashed his kick against the post, Fernando Sales scored on the follow up. Nihat restored the lead for the visitors, but Karpin missed the second penalty and Fernando Sales headed an equaliser after the break.
Real's inability to win against eight men means that they are not out of the woods, and they ended the weekend just three points above the drop zone, level with Racing and with Zaragoza, who beat Osasuna 1-0 thanks to a last minute goal from Alvaro for their first win in six games. The defeat leaves Javier Aguirre's side four points off the UEFA spots, and unless their appeal prospers against the decision not to award them the three points for the Racing match earlier in the season, there will be no European football in Pamplona next season. (09.05.04).
Real Madrid and Barcelona virtually handed the league on a plate to Valencia after both lost their respective matches on Saturday, and Rafa Benítez's side could even be crowned champions tomorrow if they can win at Sevilla. Real Madrid were beaten 2-3 at home by Mallorca, the second year in a row that the Balearic Island side have won in the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. And once again the damage was done by a player with links to the club, Samuel Eto'o (whose rights are 50% owned by Madrid) getting two excellent goals for the visitors in the first half of the match. Pavón equalised temporarily for the hosts, heading a Beckham corner past Leo Franco, but Campano sent Casillas the wrong way with a free kick just before the break to take his side further ahead. Figo pulled another back from the penalty spot five minutes after the restart, but Raúl and Ronaldo both missed chances to square the match later on, and the players left the pitch to boos from their own supporters.
Barcelona were beaten 1-0 earlier in the evening by a Celta side who were desperate for a win to climb away from the relegation spots. The Catalans had been undefeated for 17 games in a row before this match, but they were pushed around in the first half and went behind when Mostovoi laid the ball on for Edu to curl a shot past Víctor Valdés just before the half time interval. The Galicians could have gone further ahead when they were awarded a penalty after Oleguer pulled back Edu midway through the second half, but Valdés tipped Luccin's spot kick onto the post. And only a desperate header from Juanfran stopped a late effort from Saviola from levelling the scores as Barcelona threw everything forward at the end. The result takes Celta out of the bottom three pending Sunday's results. (08.05.04)