Atletico loss could be costly in La Liga title chase

Atletico's march toward its first title since 1996 hit a bump when it lost at Levante, while Real Madrid needed a spectacular injury-time equalizer from Cristiano Ronaldo to salvage a draw at home against Valencia.

Real Madrid still in the hunt thanks to Ronaldo

Atletico de Madrid's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, centre, Adrian Lopez, right, and Filipe Luis from Brazil reacts against Levante at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium in Valencia. (Alberto Saiz/The Associated Press)

Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid both slipped up in the Spanish league on Sunday to tighten a compelling title race even further.

Atletico's march toward its first title since 1996 hit a bump when it lost 2-0 at Levante, although its city rival failed to make up much ground as Madrid needed a spectacular injury-time equalizer from Cristiano Ronaldo to salvage a 2-2 draw at home against Valencia.

Atletico would still be guaranteed the title if it wins its last two games, as it leads Barcelona by three points with two games left for each team. They play each other in the final round at Camp Nou.

Ronaldo deftly used the sole of his right boot to turn in a cross in the 92nd minute and leave Madrid five points behind Atletico with a game in hand, to be played at Valladolid on Wednesday.

Barcelona had written off its title defence after drawing 2-2 with Getafe on Saturday, but the race is now wide open again.

"Now the league is that much more interesting," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said after his team's nine-round winning run came to a halt at Ciutat de Valencia stadium.

Levante pressed Atletico early and was rewarded when Papakouly Diop's corner kick hit Atletico left back Filipe Luis in the chest. The ball bounced out of reach of scrambling goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois before settling into the net in the seventh.

Atletico improved after bringing on substitutes Arda Turan and Adrian Lopez after halftime but conceded again when striker David Barral beat Courtois in the 69th.

Far from bemoaning the setback, Simeone said that defeat was "the best thing that could happen" to his team to keep it focused on the run-in not only to the league title but also to the Champions League final with Madrid on May 24, a week after the league concludes.

"Three weeks of high intensity and emotion await us," Simeone said. "This is the ideal moment for my men, for my players. We have three finals ahead of us and we have to concentrate on the first of those against Malaga next Sunday."

Four days after its commanding 3-1 victory at Chelsea to reach the final of the Champions League, Atletico was brought down by the modest Levante side that has outperformed expectations thanks to coach Joaquin Caparros' defensive focus. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas again played a key role as Levante was left in the middle of the table, turning away Raul Garcia's and Tobias Alderweireld's goal-bound strikes in each half.

"We didn't want to mess up a title for anyone, I hope they (Atletico) win it," Barral said. "We want to finish the league in the best fashion we can. Playing teams like Atletico or Barcelona is always motivating, we wanted to win it for ourselves."

Valencia arrived to the Bernabeu after its demoralizing exit from the Europa League semifinals when it conceded an injury-time goal to Sevilla on Thursday, while Madrid was flying high from its rout of Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

But even though Ronaldo drew a pair of early saves from goalie Diego Alves, it was Valencia that threatened through Dani Parejo and Sofiane Feghouli, who called Diego Lopez into action to tip away their attempts.

Valencia turned to a set piece to grab the lead in the 44th when defender Jeremy Mathieu got in front of Raphael Varane inside the six-yard box to head in a corner kick.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti sent on Angel Di Maria at halftime to spark Madrid's attack, and the forward lobbed a ball for Ronaldo to flick on for Sergio Ramos to nod home in the 59th and add to his two goals against Bayern.

Valencia wasn't done, however, and Parejo drove in a squared pass from Feghouli in the 65th after Seydou Keita had won the ball in midfield to start the move.

Ronaldo then appeared to save Madrid from a costly defeat by flicking in Di Maria's cross to take his league-leading tally to 31 goals this season. He reached 50 goals in all competitions for the fourth straight season.

Elsewhere, Ramon Azeez's last-gasp goal gave 10-man Almeria a 3-2 win at home over relegated Real Betis to help pull his team out of the drop zone, while fifth-placed Sevilla drew 0-0 at home with seventh-place Villarreal.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.