Rivals face final-day shootout

Someone will finally have to claim this season’s La Liga trophy next Saturday when Atletico Madrid travel to Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Rivals face final-day shootout

The most exciting La Liga title race in decades took another couple of wild swings during 270 minutes of pulsating drama in Madrid, Elche and Vigo yesterday, with leaders Atletico held 1-1 at home to Malaga, while Barcelona were also held 0-0 at Elche.

However, the results kept both in the running. A win or a draw will do Atletico, while a home win will see the Catalans take the title on head to head record. Real Madrid’s chances are now over after a side missing most of their top players was beaten 2-0 at Celta Vigo.

The last 10 days have brought shock after shock, with all three of the challengers running out of gas. Barca first thought they had blown any chance with a 2-2 draw at home to Getafe, only for Atletico to lose at Levante, and next Madrid to drop four points in four days with draws against Valencia and Valladolid.

There was huge noise around Atletico’s Estadio Vicente Calderon, with 55,000 home fans roaring their side on. They were almost ahead near the quarter-hour mark, when David Villa was sent clear by Raul Garcia’s flick-on, but the former Barca player’s hurried shot hit the crossbar and rebounded to safety.

With 30 minutes gone there were still no goals at the Calderon, Martinez Valero or Balaidos, although there were plenty of fingernails bitten at all three stadiums. Amid rumours of Madrid’s Isco and Barca’s Lionel Messi going close elsewhere, there were groans around the Calderon as Koke skewed wide from just eight yards. As the pressure rose again the home fans chanted ‘Now Atleti, Now Atleti’, but Garcia headed Juanfran’s cross well off target.

The title race’s first goal came elsewhere, with loud roars around the Calderon as home fans on their radios heard that Celta striker Charles had taken advantage of an error from Sergio Ramos to put his side in front and end any lingering hopes of a Madrid title comeback.

Villa again went close early in the second half, but visiting keeper Willy Caballero saved well.

The chance lifted the noise again around the Calderon, with fans on their feet, clapping, singing, cheering.

Atletico’s players seemed to be all sucked towards the Malaga goal, with the news that Charles had made it 2-0 to Celta hardly causing a ripple with everyone now focused on that one goal required. Diego Simeone caught the mood and sent on attacking substitute after attacking substitute.

A goal did come, but at the wrong end for the home fans.

Visiting attacker Samuel Garcia did really well to lift the ball over a stranded Thibaut Courtois, and then finish to the net from a tight angle. For a team who have defended so well all season it was an awful goal to concede, and Malaga’s players celebrated amid stunned silence inside the ground.

Even with Barca still unable to score at Elche, it seemed next week’s title decider was all set up.

But then reserve centre-back Toby Alderweireld glanced in a header from Jose Sosa’s corner. There were still 20 minutes to play and Atletico kept pouring forward.

Malaga’s players milked every second they could as they clung on to the point which ensured they were safe from relegation.

Marcos Angeleri was sent off for a two-footed lunge to halt another Atletico attack. Sosa’s free rippled the roof of the net on its way over. Caballero brilliantly clawed away Adrian Lopez’s curler. And three final whistles were blown.

So the drama moves on to the Camp Nou where, it’s fair to say, more twists are expected.

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