Atletico maintain title push with Elche win

Atletico Madrid took another step towards their first La Liga title for 18 years as two goals in the last 20 minutes handed them a 2-0 win over Elche at the Vicente Calderon on Friday.

Atletico maintain title push with Elche win
Diego Costa celebrates after scoring in Atletico Madrid's victory over Elche. AFP Photo/Dani Pozo

After a poor opening period from the hosts, they wasted a great chance to go in front 10 minutes after the break as David Villa's penalty was saved by Manu Herrera.

The league leaders did eventually make the breakthrough 19 minutes from time when Miranda headed home Jose Sosa's cross and Diego Costa converted a second Atletico penalty of the night late on after Christian Sapunaru was sent-off for Elche.

Victory moves Atletico six points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table and within three wins of sealing the title.

Los Rojiblancos' attention now turns to facing Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday.

"The players put in a great effort and now we have to recover as best we can for the game on Tuesday," said Atletico boss Diego Simeone.

"It is a very important game for the club, the fans and the history of Atletico Madrid."

However, there remains some doubt as to whether one of Atletico's key men, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, will be able to face his parent club.

The Belgian international was in fine form once more on Friday as he made two crucial first-half saves from Javi Marquez and Sapunaru to keep Atletico level at the break.

And Simeone is confident Courtois will be free to play after UEFA ruled a clause in his loan agreement that would force Atletico to pay an extra fee to field him ineligible.

"In principle he will play. Until the president or directors come to tell me that he can't, we will assume he can play."

In contrast to their recent displays at home, Atletico were very slow out of the blocks and didn't really get going until Raul Garcia replaced Adrian Lopez at half-time.

Garcia made an instant impact as he was dragged down inside the area by Sapunaru.

David Villa assumed the penalty taking duties after Costa had missed against Getafe last week, however the Spanish international was also denied as Manu Herrera sprung to his left to turn the ball behind.

Villa then had a goal rightly ruled out for offside and Garcia headed just over as the pressure began to build from Atletico.

And the goal finally arrived when Sosa's corner was met by a brilliant header from Miranda to sent the ball back across goal into the corner of the net.

Costa had a great chance to kill the game off as he raced onto a fine through ball from Diego Ribas two minutes from time, but Herrera made a fine low save with his legs.

Two minutes later, though, Costa was bearing down on goal again when Sapunaru bundled him over and was shown a straight red card for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Costa dusted himself down and rolled home the penalty to register his 35th goal of the season and sent Atletico into the Chelsea clash in high spirits.

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‘Something no black player wants’: Bilbao striker suffers racist abuse

Athletic Bilbao striker Inaki Williams said he was the victim of racist abuse on Saturday during his team's 1-1 draw away to Espanyol in La Liga.

'Something no black player wants': Bilbao striker suffers racist abuse
Bilbao striker Inaki Williams celebrates during Saturdays game against Espagnol. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP
“I'm a little sad because of the draw but especially because I have suffered racist insults,” Williams told the official club website after the game. “It's something that no black player or player of any race wants to hear. It's something totally out of place.”
“People have to come to the stadium to enjoy the game, to cheer on their team, to enjoy football. It's a game of friendship, of the team,” added the forward. “The truth is that it has been a sad day because of what I am telling you,
because these events that are totally out of place do not have to happen.”
Inaki wrote later on social media: “It is very sad that today we continue to experience racism in football. We have to end it. Thank you for your support. #Nomocracies #Semiostracism.”
Athletic Bilbao offered their backing for the 25-year-old. “All our support to @Williaaams45,” the club wrote in a message on Twitter. “Before anything, zero tolerance for racism.”
La Liga and the Spanish Football Federation are yet to comment but La Liga president Javier Tebas said it had been a dark day for the sport after violence also broke out between fans of Barcelona and Valencia before their fixture at Mestalla.
“Today we have taken a step back in the work that we started years ago,” Tebas wrote on Twitter. “The violent incidents between fans of Barcelona and Valencia, the racist insults made at Inaki Williams — these things are doing a lot of damage to Spanish football. “La Liga takes responsibility. We will look at the clubs where there has been wrongdoing.”
Referee Jose Sanchez made no mention of racism in his official report of the match between Espanyol and Bilbao.
The game also continued, unlike in December, when a Spanish second division fixture between Rayo Vallecano and Albacete was suspended with the agreement of the two clubs and La Liga.
Some Rayo supporters had chanted “Zozulya is a Nazi” in the first half against Albacete's Ukrainian striker Roman Zozulya, who had previously played for Rayo.