Tue, May 13, 2008 - Page 18 News List

LFP: Atletico guarantee Champions League spot


Barcelona’s Lionel Messi shakes hand with coach Frank Rijkaard after being substituted against Mallorca during a Spanish league soccer match at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday.


Diego Forlan fired Atletico Madrid into the money-spinning Champions League for the first time in more than a decade with a 1-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.

Uruguayan international Forlan was bought as a replacement for Fernando Torres, now at Liverpool, and his 16th goal of the season seconds before half-time helped Atletico qualify for the Champions League for the first time since the 1996/97 season.

“It was a great pass from Maxi [Rodriguez] and we are delighted to be in the Champions League where we want to be,” Forlan said.

Sevilla defeated neighbors Real Betis 2-0 but it was to no avail as Atletico, three points ahead, take fourth courtesy of their superior head-to-head record.

Atletico are also level on points with third-placed Barcelona who lost 3-2 to Real Mallorca in Frank Rijkaard’s final match at Camp Nou.

A UEFA Cup spot is already guaranteed for Sevilla but that may not be enough for Manolo Jimenez to keep his job or for the club to hold onto stars such as Daniel Alves, Christian Poulsen and Luis Fabiano.

Atletico could also face a fight to hang onto prized asset Kun Aguero but for now they are celebrating reaching the Champions League although they had a real scare against Depor who hit the post in the closing stages.

Aguirre can now focus on the two-legged qualifier which Barcelona must also endure while Villarreal and Real have the luxury of direct entry to the Champions League.

Rijkaard’s last home match as Barcelona coach ended in a disappointing 3-2 defeat to Mallorca after going two goals up.

“It has been an honor to work at this club,” Rijkaard said. “I have worked here for five years and I have given my all in the work that I did.”

Rijkaard, cheered by fans during the Mallorca game, has been in charge of Barcelona for five seasons but a second campaign without silverware has persuaded the board to axe the Dutchman.

Mallorca striker Daniel Guiza said it would be a dream to one-day play for Barcelona and he scored a last-minute winner to take his tally to 26 goals and is in line for the Pichichi award and possibly a big summer switch.

Mallorca are a point behind Racing Santander after five straight wins and still have a chance to snatch the final UEFA Cup spot.

Sevilla’s Fabiano is Guiza’s nearest competitor lying two goals behind after netting against Betis.

At the wrong end of the table four teams will fight to stay in the Spanish first division on the final day of the season.

Zaragoza, sixth last season, fell into the bottom three after a 2-2 draw against champions Real Madrid on Sunday.

Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy and Brazilian Robinho were on target for Real and Zaragoza are now a point behind Osasuna with their fate now in the hands of their rivals.

Osasuna will be grateful to Real for the help as they moved out of the relegation zone with a 2-1 win over Real Murcia.

Recreativo Huelva are also one point above Zaragoza after a 2-0 win at Almeria.

Valladolid are two points above the drop after a 0-0 draw with Getafe who are now safe.

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