Valencia clinch Spanish La Liga title

Associated Press

Madrid, May 10:

Valencia won the Spanish league title for the second time in three seasons on Sunday after beating Sevilla 2-0. Spain midfielders Vicente Rodriguez and Ruben Baraja scored to give Valencia an unassailable seven-point lead over Real Madrid with two rounds remaining.

“The team has worked to win this league and the satisfaction is enormous. We didn’t imagine that we could win with two games left because it was difficult to keep the pace up,” Valencia coach Rafa Benitez said. Valencia’s triumph, the sixth in its history, came after defending champion Real Madrid slumped dramatically by losing four of its last five games. “The key to winning the title was that when Madrid was so far in front we didn’t lose hope,” said Valencia’s Roberto Ayala, who burst into tears on the final whistle. “I cried because there was a lot of tension before the match. Achieving this was very difficult.”

Benitez’s team has 77 points from 36 games, while Madrid has 70 and FC Barcelona has 69. On Saturday, Madrid lost at home to Mallorca 3-2, while Barcelona fell at Celta de Vigo 1-0.

Valencia has the chance to add more silverware this season when it meets Marseille in the UEFA Cup final on May 19. “Now we’ve got to aim for the UEFA. We’ve got to enjoy this moment and stay calm,” Vicente said. After watching the game on TV, thousands of happy supporters gathered outside the club’s Mestalla Stadium, while fans in cars waved flags and sounded horns in downtown Valencia, news agency Efe reported. Vicente made the breakthrough to score from Valencia’s first attack in the 12th minute when he cut in from the left and angled his shot past Sevilla goalkeeper Esteban Suarez.

Sevilla battled for an equaliser with striker Carlos Dominguez spurning a good chance in the 35th minute when he missed a header from a cross by midfielder Antonio Lopez. As the match became finely balanced, Valencia midfielder Jorge Lopez and Sevilla’s Carlos each put the ball in the net before halftime only to see the goals disallowed. Sevilla drove forward after the interval although Jorge Lopez missed a good chance to increase Valencia’s lead after a counterattack in the 59th minute. Benitez’s team then played on the defensive to protect its lead with goalkeeper Santiago Canizares coming to the rescue in the 77th minute to thwart Sevilla substitute Antonito Ramiro.

But Baraja, who had replaced striker Ricardo Oliveira on the hour, put the triumph beyond doubt in the final minute when he fired home from Vicente’s pass. In Sunday’s late match, Atletico de Madrid drew 2-2 with Racing de Santander. Atletico stayed in sixth place on goals in each half by Argentine midfielder Ariel Ibagaza and Uruguayan midfielder Gonzalo de Los Santos. Another Argentine midfielder, Cristian Alvarez, and Israeli substitute Omri Afek replied for relegation threatened Santander, which drops to 16th place. In other 36th-round matches: Espanyol 2, Deportivo de La Coruna 0; Valladolid 2, Real Sociedad 2; Villarreal 1, Real Betis 0; and Malaga 1, Murcia 0.