First division, week 37
Real Madrid's season is going from bad to worse, and they dropped down to third in the table after losing 2-1 to already relegated Real Murcia. And once again it was one of their ex players who did the damage, Luis García scoring as early as the third minute after Casillas dropped Richi's header at his feet, and then converting a controversial penalty on the half hour mark after referee Turienzo Alvarez ruled that Helguera had handled the ball deliberately in the area. Two minutes later Madrid were left with ten men after David Beckham was sent off for insulting the linesman and the game was virtually over. The Galacticos did their best to come back, Solari and Raúl both hitting the woodwork and Sánchez Broto keeping out a couple of shots from Figo, but when Guti finally did beat the keeper in injury time it was too late. For the first time in their history Madrid had lost four league games in a row, and their summer tour is now in jeopardy as they may have to play a Champions' League qualifying round in mid-August.
Barcelona took advantage to move two points ahead of Real Madrid after beating Racing Santander 1-0. Saturday's results meant that the Cantabrians were in a relaxed mood after assuring top flight football for another season, but even so they put up a good fight. The only goal of the match came on the quarter hour mark from the penalty spot after Ronaldinho was brought down by Cristian Alvarez, referee Daudén Ibáñez turning down the visitors' claims that the foul was outside of the area. Luis Enrique was playing his last match for the club at the Nou Camp before moving on, but he turned down Ronaldinho's offer to take the kick and the Brazilian stepped up to drive it home himself. After that though the Catalans were unable to add to their score, Aouate saving from Saviola and Luis Enrique hitting the post. And they suffered for the last quarter of the match after Puyol was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Athletic Bilbao made sure of one of the UEFA cup spots after beating neighbours Osasuna 1-2. Valverde's side came close to scoring early on when Josetxo charged down Elía's clearance, and Ezquerro had a goal disallowed later in the first half. And two minutes after the restart they took the lead when Yeste beat the keeper with a free kick. Substitute Urziaz headed a second goal just a couple of minutes after coming on, and Valdo's late strike for the locals was just scant consolation.
There were emotive scenes at the ground of Atlético Madrid, where 50,000 fans gave ex president Jesús Gil a hero's send off. They were unable to dedicate a victory to his memory however, falling 1-2 to Zaragoza thanks to two goals from Toledo in injury time. Manzano's side appeared to be on their way to a win after Nano put them ahead midway through the second half, but the Paraguayan left back popped up to beat Aragonese twice in two minutes to leave Atlético down in eighth place.
Sevilla put in their claim for the last UEFA spot with a 1-4 win at Albacete, and any one of four sides could clinch it in the last round of games next weekend. Darío Silva started things off before the break and a Baptista penalty and another goal from Casquero gave the Andalucians an unassailable lead. Parri did pull one back with an individualist effort, but Hornos made it four in the last minute to take his side up to seventh. Albacete ended the match with nine men after Unai and David Sánchez were sent off in the second half.
Málaga still have an outside chance as well of returning to Europe, although their 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad left them three points adrift of sixth place Villarreal. The Basques were celebrating after they were mathematically assured of safety the day before, but the fans still gave them a hard time both before and after the match for their disappointing season. Duda put the visitors in front midway through the second half with a well struck free kick, but Kovacevic turned in a cross from Lee Chun Soo ten minutes later to save a point.
Espanyol threw away a chance to save themselves when they lost 4-2 at Mallorca. The Catalans needed a win to send Celta and Valladolid down in their place, and they seemed to be well on the way when Tamudo scored an early penalty and added a second later in the first half. But inspired by Samuel Eto'o the Islanders came back after the break, scoring four times through Perera (twice), Bruggink and Colsa to keep the relegation battle wide open. Espanyol now need to win next week at home to Murcia to be sure of staying up. (16.05.04)
Defeats for Valladolid and Celta on Saturday evening left both sides on the brink of relegation, and a victory for Espanyol tomorrow would mean the two would join Real Murcia in the second division next season. Valladolid were beaten 1-0 by Betis, and their only hope of survival now is to win their last game at home to Villarreal and hope that Celta and Espanyol don't pick up more than a point each in their remaining games. They were unlucky not to go ahead though against an apathetic opponent who had nothing to play for, Losada shooting over twice and Contreras having to save from Oscar González and Javi Moré later on. But with a quarter of an hour to go Marcos Assunçao picked up a loose clearance and fired a shot back over the head of Bizzarri to win the match and take his side back up to the top half of the table.
Celta had hopes that their neighbours Deportivo La Coruña would give them a helping hand in their local derby, but Irureta's side were not in a benevolent mood and ran out 3-0 winners to leave their fellow Galicians close to the drop. All three goals came with less than half an hour on the clock, Sylvinho starting things off by turning Fran's cross into his own net and Pandiani and Munitis getting two more soon afterwards. After that there was no way back, and the Vigo based side ended the match with ten men after Berizzo was shown his fourth red card of the season for a foul on Munitis. The result means that Real Sociedad, Zaragoza and Racing Santander can all rest easy, as although Celta could catch up with them on points, their head to head records against Moncho Carnero's side are all in their favour. (15.05.04)
New league champions Valencia lost 2-1 to neighbours Villarreal on Friday night, ending their run of ten games without defeat. The match was brought forward to allow Rafa Benítez's side time to prepare next Wednesday's UEFA cup final, but in the end the manager rested almost all of his first choice players, with only Curro Torres playing the full 90 minutes. The home side were looking to keep up their push for one of the UEFA cup spots, and they raced into a two goal lead, Sonny Anderson controlling Belletti's cross to score the opener and Riquelme adding a second midway through the first half with an individualist effort. Pellegrino headed one back before the break, but despite a lively second half in which both keepers were in constant action, there were no more goals. Villarreal had got their revenge for their elimination from this year's competition and move up to fifth in the table pending the rest of the weekend's games. The Valencia fans didn't mind much though; their league is already over and have they have their minds on other things. (14.05.04)