First Division - Day Thirty Four

Valencia 2 - Atlético Madrid 0

Valencia: Cañizares; Anglomá, Djukic, Pellegrino, Björklund; Mendieta, Gerard, Farinós, Kily González; Angulo; Piojo López. 4-4-1-1.
Atlético: Molina; Gaspar, Santi, Gamarra, Capdevila; Aguilera, Bjebl (Baraja 67'), Hugo Leal, Solari (Valerón 75'); Paunovic; Kiko (Luque 70'). 4-4-1-1.

Team changes: Valencia: Björklund, Mendieta, Kily for Fagiani, Albelda, Sánchez / Atlético: Capdevila, Bjebl, Hugo Leal, Paunovic, for Toni, Baraja, Valerón, Hasselbaink.

1-0. 23. Piojo. Ended a move started by Angulo, who passed to Mendieta.
2-0. 90. Angulo. Powerful shot from outside of area.

With Claudio 'Piojo' López back to his best form, Valencia sank Atlético Madrid even further down towards the second division. Valencia's season is coming good after a shaky start, and the days of 'vete, Cúper' (Cúper out) are long behind them. Curiously all three Champions League sides kept their same starting line ups for the league, hoping that the momentum created by reaching the semi-finals would carry through to this weekend. That meant that the versatile Angulo kept his place in attack, just behind Piojo López. Angulo has played in almost every position, including right back, but this is the Valencia number 10's natural spot. Radomir Antic made five changes in the Atlético side, some say a drowning man clutching at straws. With Hasselbaink suspended for two matches (the second will be the cup semi-final), Paunovic came in as a support forward, a position sometimes occupied by Valerón, who was relegated to the bench. Reinstated club president Jesus Gil decided to travel with the team to give them support, his return to take control inspiring his side to better (but not greater) things. This time even his influence had no effect however, as Valencia kept up their recent run of victories against the lower ranked clubs to move to within two points of Real Madrid in fourth place. On a windy night Piojo was once again the danger man, shooting just wide after taking the ball past the defence in the second minute, and forcing Molina to save on the quarter hour, Gerard just failing to control the rebound. Atlético claimed a penalty for a possible trip by Cañizares on Aguilera, but referee Llonch Andreu decided it was accidental. Halfway through the half Angulo, Mendieta and Piojo combined for the Argentinian to open the scoring with a strong shot from the right. Atlético had their best minutes at the beginning of the second half, with Aguilera hitting the bar and Pellegrino clearing from Paunovic. Antic took off a disappointing Kiko and put on young B team striker Luque, in the squad in place of the injured Correa, with Baraja coming on for Bejbl and Valerón for Solari. Cúper rested Gerard and Mendieta, Angulo dropping back as Sánchez joined Piojo up front. Angulo still had time to come forward however, and the youngster kept up his recent scoring run with the best strike of the night after Piojo had set him up with an intelligent back-heel just outside of the area. That was in the last minute, and left Atlético down and out, struggling now five points away from safety in next to bottom position. Gil went down to the dressing room after the match to console his players and to try and get them to pick themselves up for Monday night's semi-final at Barcelona, although it looks as if they they will qualify automatically if Barcelona carry out their threat to withdraw. Valencia go from strength to strength, and have two possible routes to next year's Champions League. The slightly more complicated one is to win the competition, but even if they don't they could still snatch fourth place from one of the teams above them. They are at least almost certainly assured of some European football next year, with a seven point gap opening up between them and seventh placed Valladolid. However, after this year's campaign, anything short of the top competition would be a disappointment.

Remaining matches: Valencia: Rayo (A), Real Sociedad (H), Celta (A), Zaragoza (H)
Atlético: Barcelona (H), Oviedo (A), Sevilla (H), Mallorca (A)

Betis 0 - Alavés 1

Betis: Prats; Otero, Crosa, Vidakovic, Rivas; Ito (Benjamín 40'), Cañas, Romero (Oli 60'); Finidi, Denilson; Alfonso. 4-3-2-1.
Alavés: Herrera; Contra, Karmona, Eggen, Torres Mestre; Nan Ribera, Astudillo, Desio, Morales (Azkoitia 80'); Magno (Ibon Begoña 65'); Kodro (Javi Moreno 55'). 4-4-1-1.

Team changes: Betis: Cañas, Romero, Finidi, Denilson for Filipescu, Merino, Cuéllar, Oli / Alavés: Eggen, Morales, Magno for Téllez, Pablo, Ibon Begoña.

0-1. 53. Kodro (penalty). Following foul in penalty area by Crosa on Kodro.

As usual you can make up your own report on the Alavés match. Just see our cut-and-paste instructions from earlier weeks, or if you like take any one at random and change the names around a bit. Well, let me try: 'Eggen substituted the suspended Téllez in a nine man defence/midfield, veteran Kodro was brought down in the penalty area and scored from the spot, Javi Moreno came on for Kodro and Nan Ribera was sent off. Alavés won 0-1.well once again that was the story of the match from the visitors side, with the Vitoria based side keeping up their challenge on the Champions League places with another narrow victory. They are now in a top group of six teams with a seven point gap over the seventh placed side, and European football looks like a reality for the first time ever for the club. The situation for Betis is completely the opposite however, and they are now in serious danger of joining their city rivals and Atlético Madrid in what would be one of the strongest second divisions for many years. Many commentators thought that manager Guus Hiddink could lose his job after failing to win for the tenth match in a row. However president Ruiz de Lopera reiterated his support for Hiddink and his players after the match, having very little other option with only four matches remaining to the end of the season. Hiddink could count on Finidi, recently recovered from an injury that has kept him out for a month, and brought back Denilson on the other wing. Even so they were unable to make any inroads in the populous Alavés defence, and five minute before half time the manager replaced an ineffective Ito with Benjamín, much to the midfielder's disgust. That seemed to spark Betis to life, and two minutes after the interval Herrera made his first save of the match from Alfonso. The play switched to the other end, and Nan Ribera missed the easiest chance of the match with keeper Prats already beaten. Mané prepared a substitution, with Javi Moreno waiting on the touchline to substitute Kodro. However while they were waiting for the change Crosa brought down the Bosnian striker in the penalty area, and Mané decided to let him take the penalty before making the substitution. Betis came back, and Benjamín headed against the crossbar shortly after the goal. Alavés substituted Magno with the more defensive Ibon Begoña as they pulled in their horns (well, horn), and apart from a point blank save by Herrera from Alfonso, Betis didn't trouble the visiting defence much more. Towards the end of the game the home supporters chanted 'a segundo' (the Spanish equivalent of 'you're going down') to their own players, disappointed not only with the result but with the way their team were playing. They stay on 36 points in the last relegation spot, two behind Oviedo who go to Sevilla next week. With their team already down all but mathematically, many Sevilla fans are pressuring their players to lose that match to ensure that their city rivals join them in the second division. If that happens, Betis have even less chance of stay up. Whatever happens, Hiddink has little chance of staying on next season.

Remaining matches: Betis: Mallorca (A), Valladolid (A), Real Madrid (H), Numancia (A)
Alavés: Valladolid (H), Real Madrid (A), Numancia (H), Bilbao (A)

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