Atletico Madrid’s hopes of a second successive season in the Champions League are fading fast after a thumping 5-1 defeat at Racing Santander on Thursday left them six points adrift of the top four.
Atletico’s defensive frailties were on show again as Racing scored three times in the first half to condemn the Madrid side to their 11th defeat of the season.
Racing center-halves Christian Fernandez and Ezequiel Garay, on loan from Real Madrid, grabbed a goal apiece inside the first 16 minutes and Mohamed Tchite clinched the game with a 38th minute strike.
It was a morale-boosting win for Racing who moved seven points clear of the drop zone. The loss is particularly harmful for Atletico as rivals Valencia and Villarreal both won to stay on course for Europe’s flagship competition.
Valencia defeated Real Betis 2-1 on Wednesday, while Villarreal stayed in touch with their rivals, lying three points behind, but needed a dubious goal to overcome Recreativo Huelva 2-1 at home on Thursday.
Cani scored a controversial 67th-minute winner for Villarreal for their first win in six games, but relegation-threatened Recreativo were furious claiming Cani’s chip hadn’t crossed the line.
“For me both of our goals were legal and also the third goal we scored that was disallowed,” Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini said.
Recreativo coach Lucas Alcaraz said: “I think we have the right to complain because the referee awarded a goal that he couldn’t see. He took a while to give it and there is no way he could see it from where he was.”
Villarreal will now hope Barcelona can turn over their Champions League rivals today.
Recreativo took the lead after just 56 seconds following a terrible mix-up in the Villarreal defense. Javi Camunas was alert, stealing possession before poking home his ninth goal of the season.
Villarreal were struggling, but Joseba Llorente raced onto a great pass from Ariel Ibagaza and produced a great chip over the goalkeeper to equalize in the 40th minute.
Giuseppe Rossi almost put the hosts ahead close to halftime, but a heroic goal-line block denied the former Manchester United man.
Recreativo threatened to go back in front in the second period, but fell victim to Cani’s controversial goal.
The winger used his quick feet to get in behind the defense and his chip looked to have been cleared off the line, but the referee awarded a goal.
Recreativo, convinced it wasn’t a goal, continued to play on and appealing Villarreal players had to wait several seconds before knowing whether the goal had been awarded.
Several protesting Recreativo players were booked as they vented their frustration at the referee, who then angered the home players by disallowing an in-swinging free-kick from Nihat.
Recreativo drop to second from bottom following the defeat, with Espanyol climbing above them courtesy of a 3-0 win over relegation rivals Sporting Gijon on Thursday.
Espanyol have put a fine run together at the right time with 10 points from the last 12 and are now just a point behind Sporting, who are clinging to the final safety spot.
Brazilian Nene, on a season-long loan from Monaco, opened the scoring, before Roman Martinez and Jose Callejon scored twice in as many minutes to wrap up the points.