Last trains leave for ‘Liga’ glory
21 March 2008
MADRID – As the soccer season moves toward its conclusion, the ways to glory are becoming reduced, and single, imperative objectives clearly defined. At the top, only the inconsistent Barcelona seems capable of giving chase to leader Real Madrid, which itself is beginning to misfire quite badly after four defeats in the last seven games.
Below those two, a small group of teams, including Atlético de Madrid, Sevilla and Espanyol, are focusing on the third and fourth Champions League qualifying berths, or perhaps something even bigger in the case of Villarreal, now only two points behind Barça after a run of seven Liga games without defeat.
Further down, the team which will feel most eager to secure qualification for the UEFA Cup by finishing fifth or sixth is Racing Santander, having seen its dreams of reaching the first final in its 95-year history reduced to ashes by the in-form Getafe on Wednesday night. Going into the home leg of the King’s Cup semifinal 3-1 behind, Racing needed to win by at least 2-0, but Pedro Munitis’ sixth-minute strike suggested that a night of glory in the Sardinero stadium beckoned.
But Getafe, a losing finalist last year against Sevilla, dug in, and eventually killed the match with a controversial 79th-minute equaliser. Juan Albín either did not know or did not care that Racing defender Ezequiel Garay was down injured, feeding the ball to Javier Casquero, who crashed home the final goal of the game.
"It’s just another example of the age-old debate," Getafe coach Michael Laudrup said after the game when asked about the incident. This season players have been encouraged to play on until the referee stops the game, owing to the common practice of feigning injury.
In the other King’s Cup semifinal, Valencia was hosting Barcelona at press time last night. A win for Barça would confirm a return to European soccer next season for Getafe, as Barcelona will almost certainly not need to claim the cup winner’s berth in the UEFA Cup, effectively leaving it to the other finalist, win or lose. Getafe has also reached the last eight of this season’s UEFA Cup, where it will face Bayern Munich next month.
The Easter weekend’s Liga action starts on Saturday with Sevilla taking on Atlético (10pm on La Sexta) in the Andalusian capital, with the winner sure to occupy the fourth and final Champions League berth for another week. On Sunday Villarreal will aim for its fourth away win in a row at bottom team Levante, while Espanyol visits the penultimate club Murcía. For its part, Racing will try to put King’s Cup disappointment behind it against third-bottom Recreativo de Huelva.
Barcelona hosts lowly Valladolid, with all eyes on coach Frank Rijkaard’s teamsheet to see if disaffected star Ronaldinho is included on it. The Brazilian was not picked for the trip to Valencia after conflicting reports over a possible injury. Real Madrid hosts Valencia in the Bernabéu, with Getafe and Athletic Bilbao wrapping up the weekend in the latter’s San Mamés stadium (9pm, Canal+).
[Copyright El Pais / J. BADCOCK 2008]