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Monday May 5, 2014 MYT 6:37:28 AM
Monday May 5, 2014 MYT 6:37:28 AM
by iain rogers
MADRID (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid squandered a chance to all but wrap up their first La Liga title since 1996 when they slumped to a surprise 2-0 defeat by Levante on Sunday that trimmed their lead at the top to three points.
Real Madrid failed to take full advantage of Atletico's loss and Barcelona's 2-2 home draw against Getafe on Saturday when they needed a brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo volley in added time to rescue a point in a 2-2 home draw with Valencia.
Ronaldo, La Liga's top scorer with 31 goals, sent a spectacular back-heeled effort rocketing past Valencia keeper Diego Alves in the 92nd minute to keep Real's hopes of reeling in the top two alive.
Victory for Atletico at Valencia-based Levante would have meant they needed only a win at home to Malaga next weekend to secure top spot and render their final match at Barca the following week irrelevant.
However, an own goal from Filipe Luis in the seventh minute and a neat finish from David Barral 21 minutes from time meant Atletico will almost certainly need to beat the champions as well to secure their first title since 1996.
With two matches left, Atletico lead on 88 points, three ahead of second-placed Barca. Real, on 83 points in third, have a game in hand at Real Valladolid on Wednesday when a win would lift them above Barca.
There is a genuine chance that if they beat Atletico on the last day Barca would hand to title to their bitter rivals Real, while Atletico can seal the title with a win against Malaga and a draw at the Nou Camp.
"I am proud of the team, we tried every way we could and their best player was their goalkeeper," Atletico captain Gabi said in an interview with Spanish television. "We can't make a drama out of it because we are still in the privileged position of having our destiny in our own hands," he added. "If we win our two remaining games we are champions."
Under coach Diego Simeone, Atletico are mounting their first genuine title challenge since they won a La Liga and King’s Cup double in 1996 with a team featuring the inspirational former Argentina captain.
In one of the best seasons in their history, they are also through to the Champions League final to play Real this month thanks to Wednesday’s superb 3-1 win at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium.
Simeone's players did not seem to be feeling the effects of their exertions in London and started the Levante match with their usual intensity but fell behind when the ball ricocheted off Filipe’s chest at a corner and squirmed over the line.
A dominant Atletico had plenty of chances for an equaliser, including a Filipe shot cleared off the line by Levante defender Loukas Vyntra in the 63rd minute, before Barral controlled a cross from the left and fired past Thibaut Courtois.
Substitute Adrian curled a shot on to the post 13 minutes from time but Levante comfortably held out to climb above Rayo Vallecano to 10th on 45 points.
At the Bernabeu, Real, fresh from Tuesday's superb 4-0 win at Bayern Munich in the Champions League, looked in typically dominant form in the early stages.
Valencia fired a warning when the excellent Dani Parejo, a former Real player, had a header tipped on to the crossbar by Real goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 16th minute and the visitors were ahead when Jeremy Mathieu nodded in at a corner a minute before halftime.
Sergio Ramos levelled with another header in the 59th before Parejo smashed in a loose ball to restore the visitors' lead six minutes later as Valencia looked to become the first team to win at both Real and Barca in the same season since Real Mallorca in 2002-03.
But Ronaldo produced a stunning piece of skill to volley in Angel Di Maria's centre in the second minute of added time and salvage a point for the home side.
Real coach Carlo Ancelotti said Ronaldo's late strike may prove vital to the club's title chances and lamented a missed opportunity after Atletico and Barca dropped points.
"I already said that this league would be decided in the last few matches and that's how's it going to be," he told a news conference.
"It was a tough weekend for the leaders and now it's more open than ever," added the Italian, in his first season in charge after taking over from Jose Mourinho.
Europa League finalists Sevilla, who knocked Valencia out in the semi-finals on Thursday, are guaranteed at least sixth place and a berth in Europe’s second-tier club competition for next season after they drew 0-0 at home to seventh-placed Villarreal.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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