Itty bitty Eibar eyeing Europe from near the top of Liga
BARCELONA:Eibar, a tiny club from Spain's Basque Country, is poised to play in Europe next season after winning its third match in just over a week.
The 2-0 victory at Celta Vigo on Sunday lifted Eibar over northern regional heavyweights Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad into sixth place in the Spanish league, and into position for a Europa League berth.
There are still seven games to go, but Eibar wasn't supposed to flirt with continental competition. Simply avoiding relegation would have been a success for the club's third season in the topflight.
Yet here it is, unbeaten in five matches and elbowing its way through the top half of the table.
"We have reached this spot in the standings at a good moment and when there isn't far to go," said coach Jose Mendilibar, who is in his first season with the club. "It has been a hard week with three matches, but we knew how to take three points from all of them."
Eibar, which was playing in the third division in 2013, has the league's smallest stadium - barely holding 7,000 spectators drawn from the eponymous town that was once famous for manufacturing small arms.
The club's budget of €43 million ($45.5 million) is the third lowest of the 20-team league. But it has been enough to cobble together a group of castoffs and journeymen looking for a second, or third, chance around its single homegrown starter at right back, Ander Capa.
Pedro Leon and Sergi Enrich exemplify the ability of Mendilibar to get more than anyone expected from his players.
Enrich, who bounced around the second division prior to joining Eibar, set up Saturday's opener in the 13th minute by heading on a pass for Enrique Garcia to net his fourth goal in his last five matches.
Leon, a former Getafe and Madrid midfielder who never made it at Spain's biggest club, drilled in another goal in the 51st minute to cap a flowing buildup and secure the win at Celta.
"This is a historic season. There are better teams, but we are playing at their level," the 30-year-old Leon said after equaling Enrich's season haul of 10 goals.
"I am happy to be with a serious team that does things well and where we have all grown as players."
In a blow for Celta, striker Giuseppe Rossi had to be substituted in the first half after injuring his left knee. The American-born Italian, who has suffered three serious right knee injuries, walked off the pitch.
GRANADA 1, VALENCIA 3
Simone Zaza scored twice to lead Valencia to a third consecutive win as it aims to finish a poor season on a high note.
Valencia's longest winning streak of the campaign caps a strong run over the last 10 rounds that includes six victories under interim coach Salvador "Voro" Gonzalez, who became the team's third coach of the season at the end of December. It remained in 12th place.
"We know we have had our difficulties and have to remember that no team is too small and that we have to work for each victory," Voro said.
Zaza, who joined Valencia in the winter transfer window, headed in the 19th-minute opener before tapping in again two minutes later. Santi Mina added a third before Ezequiel Ponce pulled one back.
Granada stayed in the relegation zone, seven points from safety.
"We aren't up to the standards of this city, this league, or this fan base," Granada coach Lucas Alcaraz said. "We have to keep fighting while we have life, but we can't fool anybody anymore."
LAS PALMAS 4, REAL BETIS 1
Kevin-Prince Boateng scored one goal after setting up Las Palmas' first to help end a two-game losing streak.
OSASUNA 2, LEGANES 1
Sergio Leon scored both goals as last-place Osasuna won back-to-back games for the first time this season.