A dramatic late double strike saw Roberto Soldado complete a hat-trick as Valencia beat Real Racing Club de Santander 4-3 having appeared to be heading for defeat as the new La Liga season finally got underway on Saturday.
The season was supposed to start a week ago, but a strike of a different kind — as players downed tools over wages — meant it was delayed for the first time in 27 years.
Hosts Valencia are aiming to consolidate after their third-place finish last season, despite losing a key player in Juan Mata to Chelsea, but they lacked shape and rhythm in their first league game of the season.
It started well with Soldado sliding the ball home after keeper Antonio Rodriguez spilled a Pablo Hernandez shot after just one minute, but he went on to head into his own goal six minutes later before Lautaro Acosta gave Racing the lead after 14 minutes.
The game appeared to be going away from Valencia as Adrian Gonzalez took advantage of a poor defensive clearance to add to Racing’s lead on 56 minutes, but then defender Adil Rami reduced the deficit two minutes later.
Soldado turned the game on its head with two quickfire clinical finishes after 88 and 90 minutes.
“It was a victory that came with a lot of effort and there are a lot of lessons to be learned,” said Valencia coach Unai Emery.
“The most important thing is that we learn from the mistakes and improve in defense. Otherwise, generally we created plenty of chances to score, but we did not make the most of them,” Emery said.
Racing coach Hector Cuper was pleased with the commitment of his players.
“Valencia played very well and in the final 20 minutes they began to take control. We could not do anything about that and Soldado had an excellent game,” he said.
There was also a late goal from Ruben Castro who gave Real Betis Balompie a 1-0 victory against Granada in the battle between newly promoted sides.
Betis appear better equipped to cope in the top flight after spending just a year in the second tier of Spanish soccer where they impressed with the quality of their play, but they struggled to create chances in a hard-fought encounter.
Alvaro Vadillo on the wing for Betis was the liveliest player on the pitch in the first half, but a resolute home defense kept Betis at bay. The match appeared to be heading for a stalemate before Castro fired home three minutes from time.
Earlier a double from Imanol Agirretxe gave 10-man Real Sociedad a 2-1 victory over Sporting de Gijon.
Sporting had the second-worst scoring record in the last campaign with just 35 goals and while they had the greater possession early on they created little danger and it was the visitors who went ahead from a well-worked move.
After a neat exchange in midfield, the ball was played to Carlos Martinez, who crossed for Agirretxe to head home after 34 minutes.
The 24-year-old striker headed in his second midway through the second half, but a penalty conceded by Martinez, for which he was red-carded, gave Miguel De las Cuevas the chance to pull it back to 2-1 after 68 minutes.
Real clung on, however, as Sporting defender Alberto Lora was also dismissed for a second yellow card in the last minute.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, were at Real Zaragoza yesterday with coach Jose Mourinho desperate to bring the league title back to the Santiago Bernabeu.
“The team is in better form at the moment than it was this time last year,” the Portuguese manager said. “The first game of the season is always difficult and there are often a lot of surprises.”