Valencia set to win Spanish league title

Associated Press

Madrid, May 9:

Real Madrid lost 3-2 at home to Mallorca, while FC Barcelona fell 1-0 against Celta de Vigo, making Valencia a near-certainty to win the Spanish league title. Valencia only need two points from its two matches to be sure of lifting the title for the second time in three seasons.

Valencia has 74 points from 35 games, while Madrid has 70 from 36 and Barcelona has 69 from 36. Deportivo has 65 points. Defending champion Madrid suffered its third successive home defeat on Saturday and continued its astounding slump since March when it was eliminated from the Champions League and lost the Copa del Rey final. The world’s most star-studded team looks virtually guaranteed to end the season without a trophy. Barcelona went down to a 43rd-minute goal by Celta forward Edu Schmidt which came close to snuffing out its championship chances and ended its 17-match unbeaten streak in the league. Mallorca, which humiliated Madrid 5-1 on its last league visit to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, inflicted further embarrassment by netting three times before halftime with Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o striker the principal tormentor.

Madrid, lacking suspended Zinedine Zidane, fell behind in the 10th minute when the African Player of the Year showed a characteristic turn of speed to outpace the Madrid defence and lift the ball past goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Carlos Queiroz’s team gained temporary respite seven minutes later when Pavon powered a header home from David Beckham’s outswinging corner. But Eto’o highlighted Madrid’s defensive frailty 20 minutes later with a brilliant second goal. Collecting a misdirected pass close to the halfway, the striker weaved his way to the left before darting between Pavon and Luis Figo and shooting home from inside the area.

Madrid’s woes increased six minutes later, when midfielder Alejandro Campano floated his free-kick past Casillas for the third goal.

However, Madrid gained an early boost after the restart when Figo scored with a twice-taken penalty after Mallorca striker Andrea Delibasic was adjudged to have fouled the Portuguese midfielder. Ronaldo put the ball into the net in the 65th minute but the goal was disallowed for handball. The Brazilian ace received a yellow card, forcing him out of next week’s visit to relegated Murcia. Mallorca kept Rael Madrid at bay in the closing stages and virtually ensured theior first-division survival. Mallorca is in 12th spot with 45 points.