Spanish La Liga Roundup, Mar. 20
A superb header from Marco Ruben earned Villarreal a 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league on Sunday that kept his side firmly in the race for European football next season.
After a dull first half, Ruben made the breakthrough in the 58th minute when he rose to head home Borja Valero's cross at the far post. Villarreal's win moved it into third place, ahead of Valencia on goal difference.
"We have taken an important step toward the Champions League," said Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido. "Not only in the mathematical, but also in confidence and the morale to face the remainder of the season."
Also, Sevilla beat Valencia 1-0 after Ivan Rakitic volleyed in a rebound of a shot by Alvaro Negredo in the 70th minute after some earlier inspiring goalkeeping by Javi Varas had saved Sevilla, which moved level with Bilbao on 42 points in seventh place.
"We suffered a lot but it is important victory, three points to fight to be in Europe," said Varas.
On Saturday, leader Barcelona beat Getafe 2-1 to remain five points clear of Real Madrid, which defeated Atletico Madrid 2-1 to claim its fourth Spanish capital derby victory this season.
Villarreal had struggled to find a way through the Bilbao defense in the first half at San Mames stadium.
Bilbao didn't shine either, with winger Iker Muniain's pace on the left flank providing something of a threat.
With the loss, Bilbao remained a point behind Espanyol in sixth place.
Ruben's goal forced Bilbao to look for an equalizer and two minutes later Fernando Llorente controlled a pass with his chest before firing just past the post.
The game opened up and Giuseppe Rossi finally got free to test Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz with a shot in the 62nd minute.
Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez stretched to make a great one-handed save to deny Llorente's header in the 86th to protect the victory.
"Playing good football is always complicated and not all opponents let you play the same manner," said Ruben. "Today we knew how to pull out a win in a different way, and that is important."
Valencia and Sevilla both had chances in an up-and-down game at Mestalla stadium.
Valencia's Roberto Soldado forced the first of many saves from Varas in the 16th, and moments later Valencia appealed for a penalty when Joaquin Sanchez was apparently held by defender Mouhamadou Dabo in the area, but the referee ignored the pleas.
Sevilla looked to the speed of winger Jesus Navas, but it was Rakitic who created his team's best chance in the first half when he put Negredo through the defense in the 23rd only to see his left-footer hit the post.
A minute later, Valencia striker Jonas Goncalves missed with a chip shot in a one-on-one situation with Varas, and he hit the post in the 51st after Soldado had played him through.
Varas made various saves in the second half to ensure Sevilla's first win in three weeks.
Valencia's players wore shirts with their names written in Japanese in honor of Japan's earthquake victims.
Elsewhere, Osasuna thrashed Hercules 4-0 for its third straight win.
Javier Camunas scored Osasuna's 10th-minute opener, and right back Nelson Tomar doubled the lead in the 35th for his first goal in Spain since arriving from Portuguese club Benfica in 2008.
Krisztian Vadozc made it 3-0 in the 61st, and Enrique Sola capped the win in the 67th.
"We were very focused, not letting the adversary reach our goal and we did not go to sleep after the second goal, which is often the most dangerous thing (that can happen)," said Jose Luis Mendilibar, who has led Osasuna to four wins and a draw in six games since replacing Jose Camacho as coach.
Hercules fired coach Esteban Vigo after the game as its fourth straight loss left the team in last place.
At La Rosaleda, Jose Rondon scored twice as Malaga defeated Espanyol 2-0 and moved on point from safety.
The Venezuelan striker rifled in a long pass that Espanyol defender Jordi Amat failed to clear in the eighth minute, and he stabbed in a cross from Francisco Portillo in the 26th for his 12th goal of the season.
Espanyol striker Pablo Osvaldo returned to the pitch as a second-half substitute after missing 10 matches due to injury.
Levante stayed undefeated in five matches after beating Deportivo La Coruna 1-0 from Ruben Suarez's 90th-minute free kick.
Miguel de las Cuevas scored to give Sporting Gijon a 1-0 win over Almeria, and Racing Santander beat Real Sociedad 2-1 on goals by Bakircioglu Kennedy and Giovani Dos Santos.