Tue, May 03, 2016 - Page 19 News List

Villarreal win to seal fourth place

AP, BARCELONA, Spain

Villarreal goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, left, vies for the ball with Valencia’s Alvaro Negredo in their La Liga match at the Estadio Mestalla in Valencia, Spain, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Villarreal warmed up for their decisive UEFA Europa League semi-final second leg at Liverpool by clinching a berth in Europe’s top competition on Sunday.

Villarreal’s comfortable 2-0 win at regional rivals Valencia guaranteed they would finish in fourth place in La Liga, giving the club a UEFA Champions League playoff spot next season.

El Submarino Amarillo can now focus on earning a spot in this season’s Europa League final. Villarreal head to Anfield on Thursday for the second leg of the semi-final, a week after Adrian Lopez’s stoppage-time goal gave them a slim 1-0 advantage in the tie.

Roberto Soldado was the only player to return to Villarreal’s starting XI from their first-leg win over Liverpool and the former Valencia striker excelled as a playmaker, setting up Samuel Garcia’s 14th-minute opener, before Lopez continued his strong form with another goal cued by Soldado on the break in the 33rd minute.

The win gave Villarreal a six-point lead over Athletic Bilbao with two matches left and a better head-to-head record.

“We will enjoy what we have achieved today because we have put the finish on an extraordinary league campaign,” Villarreal coach Marcelino Garcia said.

Earlier, Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia led Athletic Bilbao’s 2-1 fightback over 10-man RC Celta de Vigo, leapfrogging the visitors in the standings.

RCD Espanyol also got a much needed 1-0 win over Sevilla to keep their distance from the relegation zone, while Getafe kept alive their hopes of staying up by winning 2-0 at RC Deportivo de La Coruna.

Fabian Orellana struck first for Celta in the 13th minute, but two rash fouls by Celta defender Gustavo Cabral in a span of four minutes swung the match in Bilbao’s favor.

Aduriz equalized in the 38th minute from the penalty spot after being pulled down by Cabral, taking his tally to 18 league goals this campaign.

Cabral was sent off following a second clash shortly after, grazing Aduriz’s face with his boot while the Spain striker was prone on the ground with play stopped.

“[His] second card was for an absurd act. He didn’t have to hit my face... so the referee did the right thing,” Aduriz said.

Garcia put Bilbao ahead in the 72nd minute after he kicked the ball while on his back following a collision in the penalty area.

In Barcelona, Felipe Caicedo finished off the rebound of a long strike by Marco Asensio that came off the post for a 52nd-minute winner.

Espanyol defender Alvaro Gonzalez wept while his teammates celebrated their first win in six games, which pushed them up into 14th place and five points from the relegation zone.

“I think we are close,” Espanyol midfielder Victor Sanchez said. “It was very tough, hard fought, but we knew how to get the win, which was what we needed. I hope it makes the difference.”

Sevilla, who host Shakhtar Donetsk in the other Europa League semi-final second leg on Thursday after their 2-2 draw in Ukraine, stayed in seventh place, despite remaining winless on the road in the league this season through 18 away matches.

Getafe continued their turnaround under coach Juan Esnaider, earning a second win to go with a draw in their past three games.

Pedro Leon capped a quick buildup in the 41st minute and his corner-kick was deflected in by Carlos Vigaray to seal the win after Deportivo had been left a man down by Celso Borges’ second booking.

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