La Liga

Barcelona close in on title

Barcelona came within two minutes of clinching the Primera Division title on Sunday only for Villarreal to spoil the party in dramatic fashion. Real Madrid’s 3-0 defeat at Valencia opened the door for Pep Guardiola’s side to clinch their 19th Spanish league title with three games to go. And the Nou Camp was poised to celebrate with Barca leading 3-2 with the game deep in stoppage time. 

But Joseba Llorente bundled his way through before firing a shot high past Victor Valdes’ to stun the home crowd. Llorente had earlier cancelled out Seydou Keita’s opener only for Samuel Eto’o to restore the hosts’ lead with Dani Alves then making it 3-1. But the match hinged on a penalty decision after 76 minutes with referee Fernando Teixeira Vitienes harshly adjudging Eric Abidal to have fouled Nihat Kahveci inside the area.

Abidal saw red for the second time in two games – he was also sent off in Barca’s Champions League draw at Chelsea in midweek – and the Yellow Submarine capitalised to take the title race into another week. Barca now lead Madrid by eight points with three rounds of the season still to go.

Atletico Madrid maintained their challenge for a Champions League place with a stunning comeback 3-2 win over Espanyol. The visitors led 2-0 at half-time thanks to a Nene penalty and a bundled effort from Daniel Jarque with the hosts further hindered by the 32nd-minute dismissal of central defender Luis Perea. But a second half revival saw Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero drag Atletico level before Forlan netted again in stoppage time.

Atletico are just a point behind fourth-placed Valencia and two ahead of Deportivo La Coruna, who won 2-1 at relegation-threatened Recreativo Huelva. Joan Verdu gave Deportivo the lead after 17 minutes and although Adrian Colunga equalised for Recreativo just before half-time, Pablo Alvarez struck the winner four minutes into the second half to seal a fourth league win in five games for the Galicians. Albert Luque scored a penalty two minutes from time to earn Malaga a 1-0 win over Racing Santander and keep them in touch with the battle for European football. The match appeared destined to end goalless until Peter Luccin brought down Adriano in the box and Luque converted.

Almeria earned the points they needed to be certain of a place in the Primera Division next season with a 3-1 victory over strugglers Sporting Gijon. Goals from Miguel Angel Nieto, Kalu Uche and Pablo Piatta gave the home side their third successive league win after Carmelo Gonzalez had fired Sporting in front. They move up to 46 points with just three matches remaining and live to fight another year in the Spanish top flight. The same cannot be said for Sporting, however, who slumped to their seventh loss in eight matches and are now two points from safety.

Esteban Granero struck twice to earn relegation-threatened Getafe a potentially crucial 3-0 victory over Osasuna, who must now be fearing the worst in their own fight to avoid the drop. 

In the battle between the two sides immediately above the bottom three at the start of play, Granero set Getafe on their way from the penalty spot in the 27th minute in a controversial incident that also saw Osasuna lose Miguel Flano to a red card. Granero, who had only scored twice this season prior to this match, doubled Getafe’s lead in the 50th minute following a dreadful mistake by Osasuna goalkeeper Roberto.

Ikechukwu Uche made it 3-0 four minutes later and although Adrian Gonzalez was dismissed soon after to even up the numbers, it was a happy home debut for new Getafe coach Michel, whose side leapfrog Osasuna and move three points above the drop zone.

Numancia’s Primera Division survival hopes took another knock despite a creditable goalless draw at Real Valladolid. The visitors, who enjoyed a surprise win over Malaga last weekend, remain rooted to the foot of the table and Getafe’s win means they are now four points adrift of safety.

On Saturday night, Real’s defeat gave Barca the chance to win the title on Sunday night. Juan Mata and David Villa put Valencia in the ascendancy with goals in a five-minute spell in the first half and Ruben Baraja sealed matters with a third midway through the second period.

Third-placed Sevilla put themselves on the brink of Champions League qualification with a comfortable win 3-1 over Real Mallorca at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. The islanders took the lead in the 16th minute but from then on it was all Sevilla. Freddie Kanoute levelled after 33 minutes with a coolly-taken penalty and Luis Fabiano finally put the hosts ahead on the hour mark. Jesus Navas (76) made the points safe with a left-foot drive.

Athletic Bilbao’s team of reserves secured survival for the Basque side with a deserved 1-0 win at home to Real Betis. The result gave Athletic a timely boost ahead of Wednesday night’s Copa del Rey final against Barcelona. Ion Velez’s strike on the half-hour mark proved enough to give Joaquin Caparros’ side the three points against an out-of-sorts Betis outfit.