First division, week 38

It's all over! The final issues of the season were decided in a thrilling last day which went right down to the last minute. Three sides were fighting it out to avoid the two remaining relegation spots, with Espanyol starting off favourites as they were ahead of Celta and Valladolid in the league at the start of the day and were playing already relegated Real Murcia. But the Catalans couldn't find the route to goal, and Valladolid got ahead of them for a few minutes when Losada scored on the half hour mark against Villarreal. Next it was Celta who had a chance to move out of the bottom three when they were awarded a second half penalty against Mallorca, but Edu put his kick over the bar. It didn't matter in the end though as Tamudo put Espanyol ahead twenty minutes from the end, and Lopo wrapped things up a few minutes later for a 2-0 scoreline which keeps Luis Fernández's side in the top flight for another year. Valladolid put up a good fight and won 3-0 in the end, but there were tears at the Zorrilla stadium and also at Vigo, where Celta ended up losing 1-2.

Villarreal's defeat at Valladolid meant they missed out in the end on the last UEFA cup spot. Again it was a close run thing, with Atlético Madrid and Sevilla both pushing for a return to Europe after several years away. For a few minutes Atlético thought they had it, coming from behind to lead Athletic Bilbao 1-3 at half time. But a second half goal from Baptista in a bad tempered match with Osasuna was enough to see Sevilla through on goal average. Atlético finished in seventh spot after their game ended 3-4, and they now have to decide whether they will accept the Spanish federation's offer of one of the two places in the Intertoto cup. All indications are that they will, leaving the second spot to Villarreal or otherwise to Betis, who got ahead of Málaga after coming from two goals down to beat their Andalucian rivals 2-3.

The other issue which was settled today was for second place, which is also important as it gives automatic access to the Champions' League. Real Madrid had to win against Real Sociedad and hope Barcelona, but in fact it was another disaster for Carlos Queiroz's side as they were beaten 1-4 by the Basques, a record fifth defeat in a row. The star for Raynald Denoueix's team was Xavi Prieto who scored two and made a third, and Madrid president Florentino Pérez is expected to announce tomorrow that Queiroz is going to be replaced by Camacho for next season. The defeat of their rivals meant that Barcelona didn't have to do anything to secure second spot, which turned out to be a good thing in the end as they lost 2-1 to Zaragoza despite taking an early lead through Saviola. And Real Madrid even lost third spot to Deportivo after a Pandiani goal gave the Galicians a 0-1 win at Racing. Meanwhile league and UEFA cup champions Valencia were parading their two cups in front of their fans. It took their minds off the football though, and they lost 0-1 to Albacete. (23.05.04)

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