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Sociedad celebrate at Depor's expense

BRING THE NOISE
Real Sociedad clinched their seat in next season's Champions League qualifying rounds.
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Dermot Corrigan

Dermot Corrigan is a freelance Irish sportswriter who lives in Madrid and writes about soccer for several publications, including FOXSoccer.com, Sport 360°, When Saturday Comes and Iberosphere. Contact him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan.

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GALICIA, SPAIN

On the final whistle, the Estadio Riazor fell silent. Except for the few hundred jubilant visiting fans in the far top corner of the ground, there was nothing to celebrate. Deportivo la Coruña had, for the second time in three seasons, lost 1-0 at home on La Liga's final day suffering relegation from Spain's top-flight, while Real Sociedad cemented their place into next season’s Champions League tournament after a decade away from the competition.

Antoine Griezmann's only goal of the game, coupled with Sevilla's 4-3 win at home to Valencia, meant departing coach Philippe Montanier had guided his young side into Europe's premier stage against all odds.

“I am very happy for the club, its players, for myself, and for the fans,” a beaming Montainer said afterwards. “It has been a historic season for La Real.”

Meanwhile, 100 miles south along the coast, Celta Vigo's 1-0 victory over Espanyol meant Galicia's other top-flight club had saved itself from disappointment. Mallorca's 4-2 win over Valladolid, and Zaragoza's 3-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid, were equally meaningless and both teams also slipped down to Spain’s Segunda Division.

Deportivo manager Fernando Vazquez, who took over in February with the team rock bottom and oversaw an upturn in form which kept them fighting to the last day, lamented falling just short.

“We were in an almost hopeless situation,” a drained looking Vazquez told reporters. “The effort we made in three months, all together, brought us close. But at the end we could not do it.”

The day had begun so differently in La Coruña, where the team knew its fate was in its own hands – win and they were safe. Blue and white flags hung from apartment windows, shopping stores, historical statues and public buses, while bars by the Atlantic seafront were packed with anxious jersey-clad fans before the match.

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”For our lives” exhorted a huge flag hung off by the 34,000 home fans packed inside the ground. The visitors from San Sebastian were no less on edge, but vastly outnumbered and the game began with loud roars for every home player's touch and deafening whistles for Sociedad players. The best early chance fell to Deportivo's Bruno Gama - but he slashed his volley wide as word filtered through that early goals for Celta and Mallorca meant his team were back in the drop zone.

With plenty of time left, Ever Banega's quick goal for Valencia shot Sociedad's hopes. Yet after 22 minutes, the Deportivo defense, its Achilles’ heel all season, was ripped apart and Griezmann calmly and expertly volleyed past stranded goalkeeper Dani Aranzubia.

Riazor was stunned to silence, except for the ecstatic visitors, who saw their side grow in confidence and almost score again through Mexican standout Carlos Vela. They had even more to celebrate as word came that Sevilla's Alvaro Negedo had scored twice to put Sevilla ahead of Valencia. At half time, Sociedead were in the Champions League, Depor heading for La Segunda.

The entire second half was a futile attempt by the home side to change the situation. They tried, and tried, but were regularly let down by a lack of composure and – to be fair – attacking quality. The Basques almost gifted their opponents an equalizer when Carlos Martinez headed a cross against his own crossbar, but still it stayed 1-0. Riki's acrobatic volley went inches too high; substitute Salomao's header somehow also hit the woodwork.

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Even with midfielder Markel Bergara harshly sent off, and Deportivo finishing with a 2-3-5 formation not seen since the 1950s, no goal would come. Four minutes of injury time were added, but gloom was already falling on the ground, the only hope a late equalizer for Espanyol at Celta. It never arrived.

“Depor did not deserve to lose the game, especially in the second half,” Montanier said. “In the first half we were maybe close to 2-0, but later we suffered, we had to do that, to win the game.”

On the final whistle, Deportivo players sank to the turf while La Real's danced for joy. The stunned home fans gradually roused themselves to applaud as 37-year-old playmaker Carlos Valeron – the club's best ever player who is retiring after 13 seasons of outstanding service – left the Riazor pitch in tears.

Depor bounced straight back up two seasons ago, but the club's future looks much bleaker now, given its €150 milllion debts and the legal battles facing long serving owner Augusto Cesar Lendoiro. Vazquez said that he did not know when, but his team would be back.

“We are going to the second division, but we will return,” he said. “We will come back stronger, more united, and more healthy.”

These were brave words, said with conviction. But for the Depor fans drifting out into the dark, a return looks dark and distant.

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