Santander snatch UEFA Cup slot from Spain

May 19th, 2008 - 11:03 am ICT by admin  

Madrid, May 19 (DPA) A 3-2 defeat Sunday at Mallorca leaves star-studded Zaragoza relegated to the Spanish second division. The relegation of Zaragoza is the surprise story of the Spanish season.

The most expensive team in Zaragoza’s history - starring Argentine internationals Roberto Ayala, Pablo Aimar and Diego Milito - was supposed to challenge for the Champions League places, or at least the UEFA Cup.

Zaragoza, who have gone through four coaches this season, finish third from bottom with 42 points and go down with Murcia and Levante.

League top scorer Daniel Guiza gave Mallorca an early lead with his 27th goal of the season. Ricardo Oliveira levelled for Zaragoza in the 55th minute, but just 10 minutes later the nervous Zaragoza defence allowed Pierre Webo to make it 2-1 with a powerful header.

Zaragoza came forward for the draw that would have saved them but failed to create clear chances.

Gonzalo Castro made it 3-1 for Mallorca on the break, right at the end. Oliveira pulled back another goal for Zaragoza in injury time, too late to save the 2004 cup winners.

“The players have given it all they had,” said a dejected Zaragoza coach Manolo Vilanova, “but things have gone against us again”.

The defeat of Zaragoza almost gave Mallorca sixth place and a UEFA Cup berth.

Racing Santander, however, managed to finish sixth - and thus reach Europe for the first time - with a late 1-0 defeat of Osasuna.

With just four minutes left in Santander, defensive Osasuna were holding out for a 0-0 draw, which would have ruined the hosts’ Euro dreams.

In the 86th minute, though, with the Estadio Sardinero crowd holding its breath, Mohamed Tchite broke free down the right and centred for supersub Ivan Bolado to score the most important goal in Santander’s history.

Santander finish their best-ever campaign with 60 points, one more than frustrated Mallorca.

The late defeat in Santander left Osasuna praying for a Zaragoza defeat against Mallorca.

Osasuna finish fourth from bottom, just one point above hapless Zaragoza.

Fifth from bottom on 44 points are Recreativo Huelva, who battled out a tense 1-1 draw with Valladolid, who finish fifth from bottom on 45.

Earlier Sunday, Valencia had beaten Atletico Madrid 3-1, while Betis and Getafe played out a meaningless 1-1 draw.

The final games of the season were played out later in the evening, with champions Real Madrid thrashing bottom team Levante 5-2.

The Levante players have been on strike all week - complaining about not having been paid properly for two years - and had threatened not to play in the Estadio Bernabeu.

In the end, however, they were persuaded to play - and ended up perhaps wishing they had not, so convincingly were they thrashed.

Fit-again veteran Ruud Van Nistelrooy and defender Sergio Ramos both scored twice for Real, and Wesley Sneijder put away the other goal.

The relaxed win means that Real finish on 85 points, eight points ahead of second-placed Villarreal, who won 1-0 at Deportivo Coruna with goals from South American forwards Matias Fernandez and Guille Franco.

Troubled Barcelona - who won 5-3 Saturday at relegated Murcia - finish in third place, 10 points behind Villarreal.

Atletico Madrid finish fourth, despite their defeat in Valencia, and will accompany Barca into the preliminary round of the Champions League.

In fifth place and heading for the UEFA Cup are Sevilla, who beat Athletic Bilbao 4-1 Sunday at home, with two more goals from Frederic Kanoute.

Then come euphoric Santander in sixth place, just ahead of seventh-placed Mallorca.

Almeria completed a creditable campaign by winning 3-1 at Espanyol, which leaves Unai Emery’s team in eighth place.

Deportivo Coruna finish ninth, Valencia 10th, Bilbao 11th and Espanyol 12th.

Then come Betis, Getafe, Valladolid, Recreativo Huelva and Osasuna - followed by relegation victims Zaragoza, Murcia and Levante.

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