Fri, May 05, 2006 - Page 23 News List

Barcelona retains Primera Liga title

SPANISH CHAMPS Although Samuel Eto'o clinched the goal in Barcelona's 1-0 win over Celta Vigo, fans gave Ronaldinho much of the credit for bringing the title home

AFP , MADRID

FC Barcelona players celebrate after striker Samuel Eto'o (9) from Cameroon scored against Celta Vigo during their Spanish First Division soccer match played at the Balaidos stadium in Vigo on Wednesday.

PHOTO: EPA

As Barcelona fans celebrated their second successive Spanish championship on Wednesday, they were giving much of the credit for getting this title to their Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho.

Even more than the goal scoring machine Samuel Eto'o, who found the net 25 times after Wednesday's 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo, or their inspirational captain Carles Puyol, it has been Ronaldinho who has returned Barcelona to heights the club scaled in the early 1990s.

A bewilderingly skilful player with the ball at his feet, whom many have compared to George Best, he was the driving force behind Barca's 14-game winning streak in the middle of the season which was instrumental in them winning the "Primera Liga" again.

Barcelona celebrated their 18th Spanish league title by showing their class and beating Celta Vigo 1-0 on Wednesday, with a goal from Eto'o and despite the result being irrelevant.

The Catalan club had earlier in the night been confirmed as champions for the second successive year when their nearest rivals Valencia went down 2-1 at Real Mallorca.

"We've now got one of our two objectives of the season. Our supporters and the team deserve this title," Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard said in his usual understated fashion.

The Champions League finalists, who play Arsenal on May 17 in Paris, have an unbeatable 11 point lead in the Spanish first division as Valencia have only two games remaining.

The news that they had become champions reached the Barcelona players as they left the field in Vigo after a tepid first half, with the score 0-0 after the game kicked off later than the rest of the matches.

There were immediate celebrations and with the champagne still on ice in the dressing room, Barca players started dousing each other with sports drinks and water.

However, Rijkaard clearly gave his men one of his inspirational half time talks, which have changed the direction of so many games this season, and told them to show some of the style that has made them one of Europe's most entertaining and successful teams this season.

With the title decided, the race is now on for second place and automatic qualification for next season's lucrative Champions League group stages.

Scottish Premier League

Hearts caretaker coach Valdas Ivanauskas paid tribute to his predecessors George Burley and Graham Rix after the Tynecastle club clinched second place in the Scottish Premier League and their first ever spot in the Champions League.

A 1-0 win at home to Aberdeen on Wednesday evening, courtesy of a second-half penalty from Paul Hartley, meant the Edinburgh side cannot be caught by Rangers, despite the two sides meeting in the final game of the season at Ibrox on Sunday.

And crucially this ensures it will be Hearts who will take their place in the Champions League qualifiers next season instead of the Ibrox club who will now have to contend with playing in the UEFA Cup.

This success comes at the end of a topsy turvy season for the Tynecastle club under the ownership of owner Vladimir Romanov.

The Lithuanian sacked Burley, despite the fact he led Hearts to the top of the league by going 10 games unbeaten, and then also axed his successor Rix who made way for Ivanauskas.

However, the current head coach took time out to praise the contributions made by the two men and everyone who works behind the scenes at the club.

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