Valencia beats Madrid 3-0 in Spanish league

MADRID: Valencia thumped defending champion Real Madrid 3-0 on Saturday to provide Barcelona the chance to win the Spanish league this weekend.

Madrid's defeat at Mestalla Stadium kept it seven points behind the leader, allowing Barcelona to be proclaimed champion for the 19th time if it beats Villarreal at Camp Nou on Sunday.

It was the second straight heavy loss for coach Juande Ramos' team, which suffered a humiliating 6-2 defeat against Barcelona at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium last weekend which all but killed off its hopes of a third straight title.

In other games, third-place Sevilla topped Mallorca 3-1, while Athletic Bilbao edged lowly Real Betis 1-0.

Barcelona has 85 points, while Madrid stays with 78. Barcelona has four games remaining, while Madrid has three. Sevilla follows with 63 and is well-positioned to be Spain's third team to qualify for the Champions League group stages. Valencia is next with 59.

Madrid's hopes of prolonging the title race were hampered by the absences of sidelined midfielders Wesley Sneijder, Jose Maria "Guti" Gutierrez and Lassana Diarra together with suspended central defender Pepe. The visitors also lacked long-term casualties Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mahamadou Diarra and Ruben De La Red.

Juanma Mata, a former Madrid youth team player, gave Valencia the lead in the 29th minute when he completed a well-worked move by creating space and shooting past goalkeeper Iker Casillas from the left of the goal.

Worse came for the visitors three minutes later when David Silva cut in from the left and, unchallenged, fired a low shot which the diving Casillas succeeded in only pushing over the line.

With Madrid being eclipsed by its opponent, Ruben Baraja made it 3-0 in the 68th with a volley from the edge of the area after being teed up by Pablo Hernandez's chip.

Madrid faces remaining league games against Villarreal, Mallorca and Osasuna, after which Ramos is expected to leave the club ahead of presidential elections in June.

Mallorca striker Aritz Aduriz netted the opening goal at Sevilla's Ramon Sanchez de Pizjuan Stadium in the 16th minute with his 10th goal of the season when he drilled home an angled shot.

Frederic Kanoute leveled 17 minutes later with a penalty, awarded after Mallorca defender Ivan Ramis was adjudged to have pulled down Luis Fabiano. The goal was Kanoute's 18th of the season.

Luis Fabiano sent the home team ahead on the hour after bursting past several Mallorca defenders and firing home with his left foot.

Jesus Navas sealed Sevilla's win with a fierce rising shot in the 76th.

Mallorca, whose defeat was only its second in its past 14 matches, stayed ninth with 45 points.

Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros fielded a weakened team in preparation for next Wednesday's Copa del Rey final against Barcelona, saving many first-teamers for the Basque club's first final in 25 years.

However, Bilbao forward Ion Velez struck the winning goal in the 29th minute, sidefooting home from close range from Inaki Munoz's right pass.

Bilbao rose to 10th place with 44 points. Betis, with just one win in 13 games, remains 15th with 37 points and in relegation trouble.

Sunday's other games are: Getafe vs. Osasuna; Recreativo Huelva vs. Deportivo La Coruna; Valladolid vs. Numancia; Malaga vs. Racing Santander; Almeria vs. Sporting Gijon; and Atletico Madrid vs.