Football: Atletico make Barca wait by squeezing past Valladolid

Atletico Madrid's Uruguayan defender Diego Godin acknowledges fans at the end of the match.
Atletico Madrid's Uruguayan defender Diego Godin acknowledges fans at the end of the match.PHOTO: AFP

MADRID (AFP) - Barcelona were made to wait to retain their La Liga title on Saturday (April 27) as closest challengers Atletico Madrid scraped past strugglers Real Valladolid 1-0 after surviving late VAR penalty drama.

Ernesto Valverde's side would have been crowned champions for the eighth time in 11 seasons ahead of their home clash with Levante later had Atletico lost to relegation-threatened Valladolid, but Joaquin Fernandez's own goal was enough to seal the three points and delay the Barca title party.

However they had to endure a nervy final few minutes in which Jan Oblak had to be at his best and they survived a late VAR check over what looked like a clear Santiago Arias handball in the area.

"It's controversial, a ball that hits the hand and the referee's decision is to see if it's voluntary or not," said Saul Niguez, whose cross led to their fortunate winner and who gave away a penalty in a similar fashion during Wednesday's 3-2 win over Valencia.

The victory means second-placed Atletico are six points behind Barca, who now have to beat Levante at the Camp Nou later in order to take the title with three matches to spare before they host Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals.

Should Barca win as expected, they will hold their nine-point lead over Atleti, who will no longer be able to overtake the Catalans thanks to their inferior head-to-head record.

However Diego Simeone's side will be satisfied they are nine points ahead of local rivals and reigning European champions Real Madrid, who travel to Rayo Vallecano on Sunday amid increasing speculation they will respond to a disappointing season by swooping for Eden Hazard and Neymar.

"It's what we deserve, no more, no less. We've come so far," added Saul.

"There were moments when we wanted to be first and others that I would say no, that's what we deserve."

UNDER-PAR ATLETICO

Valladolid meanwhile stay 17th, just one point and a place away from the relegation zone after a match they will feel they were unlucky to lose.

Atletico were far from their intense best, and the first half was a drab affair enlivened by a few Valladolid pot shots and a fine save from Jordi Masip, who did well to tip away Antoine Griezmann's free-kick.

However they upped their game early in the second half and got the breakthrough in the 66th minute when Joaquin launched himself at Saul's cross from the left and headed the ball past Masip into his own goal.

That didn't stop Valladolid though, and the away side thought they would be given a chance to equalise from the spot with just four minutes left when Arias appeared to handle a cross, only for referee Mario Melero Lopez to give a corner following a long VAR check.

They then forced saves from Oblak before Fernando Calero hit the post with a header two minutes into stoppage time, but they couldn't make their late flurry count.

Earlier on Saturday, Athletic Bilbao and Alaves did their chances of European football next season no favours with a 1-1 draw in the Basque Country.

Seventh-placed Bilbao are five points away from the Champions league places - with Alaves a further three points back - and could also see Valencia and Sevilla take the Europa league further away from them when they take on Eibar and Girona.