Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 23 News List

Villarreal overcomes Valencia

SOCCER The battle for second place resumes today when Real Madrid, with 70 points, visits relegated Murcia, and FC Barcelona, which has 69, hosts Racing de Santander

AP , VILLARREAL, SPAIN

Valencia's Rodolfo Arruabarrena, right, and Villarreal's Argentine Sebastian Battaglia battle during their Spanish League match at Villarreal's El Madrigal stadium, Friday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

New champion Valencia suffered its first defeat in 11 games, losing 2-1 against Villarreal in a 37th-round Spanish league match, one week after clinching its second title in three seasons.

Valencia coach Rafa Benitez said he was reasonably satisfied with his team's display Friday. His squad rested several top players with an eye on next Wednesday's UEFA Cup final against Marseille.

"There were phases when I liked the team," Benitez told sports daily As. "Up to the first goal we weren't bad. And the team's reaction when it was losing was very good."

Brazilian striker Sonny Anderson gave Villarreal the lead in the 14th minute when he netted after controlling a long pass from rightback Juliano Belletti.

Belletti, who is negotiating a move to Barcelona after the season, may have played his penultimate game for Villarreal.

Argentine midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme doubled the lead 12 minutes later when he evaded two defenders inside the penalty area and fired past Valencia's third-choice goalie David Rangel.

Valencia reduced the deficit in the 35th minute, when Argentine defender Mauricio Pellegrino headed home midfielder Jorge Lopez's corner.

Villarreal's victory gave it revenge for its 1-0 aggregate defeat by Valencia over the two legs of their recent UEFA Cup semifinal.

Villarreal has 54 points and rises to fifth place, at least until Sunday's games are played. The teams that finish fifth and sixth get a berth in next season's UEFA Cup.

"This victory is sensational, marvelous," Villarreal coach Paquito Garcia said. "It could be worth its weight in gold."

Valencia received applause from the home side as it took the field in recognition of its title success.

Jesus Gil

Moments later, a short musical tribute was held in memory of former Atletico de Madrid president Jesus Gil, who died earlier Friday.

Jesus Gil, a flamboyant, tough-talking impresario who owned the Atletico de Madrid soccer team, died of a stroke doctors said. He was 71.

Gil died at the intensive care unit of Clinica Cemtro, the hospital medical director Mariano Malillos said.

Gil had been at the clinic since Sunday, when he had a severe stroke while he was with his family at his villa in the Toledo province, south of Madrid. His condition worsened and he had been deeply sedated and on a ventilator.

After 16 years as Atletico president, Gil stepped down in May 2003, saying he was tired of criticism over how he ran the team. He was its main shareholder.

Gil's career at Atletico was punctuated by controversy and court appearances involving allegations of fraud, embezzlement and misappropriating team funds from the time he took over as president in 1987, and the team became a corporation, offering shares, in 1992.

Gil had two spells in prison.

His first in 1969 followed the collapse of a property his company had constructed which killed 58 people. Gil received a five-year sentence but was released after 18 months after being pardoned by dictator Francisco Franco.

He was also briefly jailed in 2002 but released on bail after being accused of misusing funds from the southern resort city of Marbella, where he served as mayor from 1991-2002, and ran a pro-business party named after himself.

His death caused an outpouring of tributes in Spanish soccer, and Atletico's Spanish league match against Zaragoza was postponed 24 hours to Sunday as a mark of respect, sports daily Marca said on its Web site.

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