MADRID – Valencia held their nerve to secure La Liga’s last Champions League place on Saturday as a 2-0 victory over Real Valladolid ended Getafe and Sevilla’s hopes of snatching fourth.
Getafe had to better Valencia’s result at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla as they faced Villarreal, while Sevilla needed beat Athletic Bilbao and hope both Getafe and Valencia lost.
Sevilla held up their side of the bargain by seeing off Bilbao 2-0 but Getafe drew 2-2 and Valencia won, meaning it is Marcelino’s side who reach the Champions League for a second consecutive year.
They sit seven points behind Real Madrid, who play Real Betis at home on Sunday, and 15 adrift of second-placed Atletico, who earlier drew 2-2 away at Levante, with Antoine Griezmann jeered in his final match for the club.
Valencia’s Champions League chances looked slim after they were knocked out of the Europa League by Arsenal two weeks ago and even slimmer when a miserable start to the season left them 15th after 15 games, a scrap for survival more likely than a dash for the top four.
But Marcelino stayed and oversaw the recovery, which could now have a final flourish if they manage to beat a physically and mentally drained Barcelona and win the Copa del Rey on May 25.
After 11 weeks in the top four, fifth place and the Europa League comes as a disappointment for Getafe, even for a team promoted to the top flight only two seasons ago whose annual wage bill is more than 10 times smaller than Real Madrid’s.
Sevilla qualify for the Europa League too, finishing sixth after Ben Yedder and Munir El Haddadi extinguished Bilbao’s own hopes of European football next season.
Instead, Sevilla are joined by Espanyol, whose fans invaded the pitch when the full-time whistle blew at Cornella, where a 2-0 win over Real Sociedad means the Catalan side clinched seventh.
Getafe sat fourth for 23 minutes over the course of the afternoon, after Francisco Portillo pulled an early shot into the corner, but news soon filtered through that Valencia had scored against Valladolid, Carlos Soler capitalising on a mistake by Kiko Olivas.
From there, everything went Valencia’s way as Rodrigo gave them a two-goal cushion, shortly after Villarreal’s Vicente Iborra had nodded in an equaliser against Getafe.
A brilliant header from Nemanja Maksimovic looked to have given Getafe a winning finish but even that was denied them when Gerard Moreno’s angled shot bobbled its way in after some clumsy handling by David Soria.
Earlier, Griezmann was barracked by fans during his last game for Atletico and Rodrigo might have scored his final goal for the club as they came back from two goals down to draw with Levante.
Griezmann received whistles at the City of Valencia Stadium from the visiting fans, who were also heard chanting “out, out, out” before goals from Sergio Camello and Rodrigo ensured Atletico ended the season with a point.
“We had to highlight the work of the gladiators who are leaving,” Simeone said afterwards.
“Their greatest legacy is not the titles won, it is their commitment and respect. I love them very much.”
Simeone has dismissed fears of a mass exodus, despite both Diego Godin and Griezmann already announcing their departures, with the likes of Rodrigo, Juanfran and Filipe Luis all expected to follow.
If this was to be their farewell outing for Atletico, it was an underwhelming finale as impressive Levante could have been out of sight before they were eventually pegged back by the away side.
Simeone’s side finish second with 76 points. They come in above Real Madrid for a second consecutive year but will end up 13 points behind Barcelona, if the Catalans win away at Eibar on Sunday.AFP