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Match round-up - First Division, Day 38

High drama on Saturday night, with Deportivo relegated to the second division after 0-2 defeat at the hands of Valencia. Any one of six teams could have joined Almería and Hércules in the bottom three, but after Aduríz put the Ches ahead in the fourth minute, Depor never left the drop zone. The Galicians did their best, knowing that an equaliser would save them, and Riki came close with a header against the post before the break. But veteran keeper César frustrated them in the second half, and with the game in the last minute of injury time Soldado scored his side's second to confirm that Depor would go down after 20 glorious years in the top flight. Thoughts went back to that day at the end of the 1994 season, when Valencia keeper González saved Djukic's last minute penalty to deprive Depor of a first ever Liga title. They won it eventually five years later, but once again Valencia stood in their way in another sad day in the club's history.

Mallorca began their game against Atlético Madrid relatively sure of staying up, but as results started to go against them the nerves started to fray. Atleti themselves were looking to improve on their seventh spot, and Agüero and Juanfran put them two up early on, the first from Juanfran's pass and the second after Reyes put him through. Agüero scored again soon after the restart with an impressive shot, but De Guzmán got one back from the penalty spot after Valera handled in the area, and Webó headed a second from Chori Castro's cross to give the home fans hope. However Agüero went on to complete his hat-trick with another spectacular shot, and although Webó scored again it was not enough. Radios tuned in on the Riazor stadium after the final whistle, but a minute or two later they knew they were safe.

Atlético's victory was to little avail in the end after Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao both won, and they will have to cut short their holidays early to take part in the early rounds of the Europa League. Sevilla beat Espanyol 2-3 to ensure fifth spot, a performance however that could not save coach Gregorio Manzano from being asked to move on. Negredo confirmed his good recent form with the opener in only the second minute, and Kanouté headed another close to half time in what will probably be his last match for the Andalusians. Verdú set up Osvaldo after the break to pull one back for the locals, but Negredo volleyed home his second of the night before Verdú completed the scoring later on. Espanyol miss out on Europe despite a good season, and the fans had a chance to say good-bye to Iván de la Peña when he came on for the last few minutes.

Athletic Bilbao won 1-2 at Racing Santander to stay ahead of Atlético on a three-way head-to-head record with Sevilla, all of the teams in fifth to seventh spot ending up level on points. The Cantabrians had already made sure of staying up a couple of weeks ago, but Henrique almost caught out Iraizoz with a shot from inside his own half early on. However two goals in a minute midway through the first half sealed it for the Basque side, David López beating Toño with a well struck free kick and Llorente chipping a shot past the keeper after picking up a pass from Orbaíz. Any hopes that Racing had of a comeback ended when Francis was sent off for a second bookable offence with twenty minutes to go, although Kennedy did at least give the home fans something to cheer about with a late consolation which went in off defender Amorebieta.

Zaragoza started the day in the relegation spots, but a 1-2 win at the already safe Levante took them well clear in the end. Some 11,000 visiting fans swelled the crowd, and the Maños dominated the game for most of the 90 minutes. Boutahar and Uche both had goals disallowed for offside, and Munúa had to make first class saves from Lafita and Ander before Gabi finally beat him with a free kick shortly before half time. Uche headed against the bar after the interval and Gabi scored a second with an impressive shot a few minutes later, and it seemed to be all over. However Stuani headed in a Xavi Torres free kick to close the gap, and there were some nervous moments before the fans could finally celebrate.

Osasuna also had few problems beating Villarreal 1-0, Juan Carlos Garrido's side having nothing to play for after ensuring the fourth Champions League spot a couple of weeks ago. Visiting keeper Diego López was the busiest man on the park in the first half, pulling off good saves from Pandiani and Kike Sola, but he could do nothing to prevent Cejudo from firing home a volley shortly before the break. Rossi had tested Ricardo a few minutes earlier, and the ex Manchester united keeper did well to stop Cazorla and Rossi from levelling the scores after the restart. Kike Sola should have settled the fans' nerves when he missed the target later on, but knowing they only needed a draw anyway there wasn't too much to worry about.

At the start of the day the two teams who appeared to be most in danger were Real Sociedad and Getafe, but the scorelines in La Coruña and Mallorca gave them both some breathing space. Michel's side started the day a point behind their hosts, but in the ninth minute Cata Díaz got on the end of an Albín free kick to poke a shot past Claudio Bravo. Real still needed a point to be safe, and Demidov and Griezmann brought good saves out of Ustari either side of half time. And midway through the second half Sutil got on the end of a Xabi Prieto free kick to head home the equaliser. As news came in from the other grounds it became clear that both were going to survive if the score remained unmoved, and with the dugouts monitoring the transistors to ensure that nothing untoward happened, the two teams played out the remaining minutes without taking too many risks.

Three matches with nothing at stake took place earlier in the evening, league champions Barcelona starting things off with a 1-3 victory at Málaga. With the Champions League final only a week away, Guardiola rested virtually his entire first choice line-up, only giving a run out to Abidal for him to get some match practice. And the locals took advantage to take the lead, Seba Fernández controlling Maresca's pass before beating Pinto on the half hour mark. Bojan made it all square from the penalty spot though after he was fouled by Eliseu a couple of minutes before the break, and Afellay and youngster Marc Bartra scored twice in the second half to give the Blaugrana their best ever record away from home.

Real Madrid's only objective against the already relegated Almería was to score as many goals as possible, and they sailed past the hundred mark for the season as they rattled up an 8-1 win. Cristiano Ronaldo himself was keen to lay to rest any doubt about whether he had beaten the league record of Zarra and Hugo Sánchez (see our Pichichi section for details), and with only four minutes gone he opened the scoring after Ramos headed over a Xabi Alonso free kick. Özil set up Adebayor for a second on the half hour mark, but Kalu Uche got one back a minute later, and Corona almost equalised when he headed against the post immediately after the restart. After that though the floodgates opened, Benzema scoring two, Adebayor completing a hat-trick, Ronaldo scoring again, and then B team youngster Joselu making it 102 for the current campaign. In almost every other season that would have won them the title, but this year once again they have been thwarted by a Barcelona side who many are now saying are the best team ever to walk this planet.

Hércules and Sporting Gijón played out their last game of the season with mixed feelings, the locals facing their disappointed fans after failing to do enough to stay up in their return to the top flight, and the visitors relieved to have ensured another season in the first division. Preciado gave a run out to young keeper Raúl Dominguez, and he kept out Portillo and Trézéguet early on. Trézéguet had a goal disallowed for a borderline offside before half time, and local keeper Unai Alba, also making his first start of the season, saved from Barral and Sergio Alvarez after the break. A funeral atmosphere though in the Rico Pérez stadium, and the Alicante based side will be playing their football in the second division again next season. (21.05.11)