Tue, Apr 24, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Europa League contenders pick up La Liga victories

AFP, MADRID

Real Betis Balompie’s Jose Alberto Canas, top, is fouled by Valencia defender Antonio Barragan in their La Liga match in Valencia, Spain, on Sunday.

Photo: EPA

Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao all collected wins in La Liga on Sunday, providing crucial boosts ahead of their Europa League semi-finals on Thursday.

Third-placed Valencia beat nine-man Real Betis Balompie 4-0 at home with goals from Jonas Gonzalves, Sofiane Feghouli, Roberto Soldado and Pablo Piatti to stay on track for a Champions League place next season.

Betis had Jose Dorado sent off in the second half for pulling over Feghouli as the last defender, while Jorge Molina followed him into the dressing room with two minutes remaining for protesting.

Valencia are now six points ahead of city rivals Levante UD in fifth place and with only four games left are close to assuring Champions League qualification for next season.

The result also means Valencia will go into the second leg of their Europa League semi-final at home to Atletico in good spirits as they look to turn around a 4-2 deficit.

Turkish international Arda Turan hit two spectacular strikes to improve Atletico Madrid’s hopes of European soccer next season as they beat rivals RCD Espanyol 3-1.

Diego Godin put Atletico ahead on nine minutes with a powerful header, before Didac Vila crashed home an equalizer to make it all square at the interval.

Turan’s match-winning performance began with an acrobatic finish to a Juanfran cross on 59 minutes to restore the hosts’ lead. Two minutes later, he took down a long pass from Godin, before twisting and turning through the Espanyol defense and hitting a shot that sneaked past Cristain Alvarez in the Espanyol goal.

The win puts Atletico into seventh position, three points behind Malaga, who currently hold a Champions League place, and level on points with Athletic Bilbao, who beat Real Racing Club de Santander 1-0.

Gaizka Toquero got the first-half goal for Bilbao that almost certainly condemns Racing to relegation.

Athletic, who trail Portugal’s Sporting 2-1 ahead of their Europa League semi-final second leg in Spain on Thursday, are currently in a position that qualifies them for that competition again next season.

Santander are rock-bottom of La Liga, and with only four games left they are 11 points from safety and very close to losing the place in Spain’s top flight that they have held since the 2000-2001 season.

Real Sociedad and Villarreal shared the points in a 1-1 draw that almost guarantees safety for both clubs.

Marcos Senna put Villarreal ahead in the first half, but Carlos Vela snatched an important equalizer with a spectacular overhead free-kick six minutes from time to put Sociedad on 40 points, nine ahead of Real Zaragoza and Sporting de Gijon in the relegation zone.

Villarreal move to 37 points, only six points from safety, but with four games remaining their destiny is firmly in their own hands.

Granada snatched an important 1-0 victory over Getafe with a goal from the Argentine Franco Jara that also pushes them closer to safety.

The Andalusian team, in their first season back in the top division since 1976, are eight points clear of the relegation zone.

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