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Football

Valencia clinch Spanish title


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Rafa Benitez now takes his side into the UEFA Cup final

SEVILLE, Spain -- Valencia clinched their second Spanish title in three seasons after goals from midfielders Vicente and Ruben Baraja earned them a 2-0 victory at Sevilla.

With only two games left, the win left Rafa Benitez's side with an unassailable seven-point lead over Real Madrid, who slumped to their third successive defeat on Saturday, 3-2 at home to Real Mallorca.

For Real it is the first time in five years that they have finished the season without winning a major trophy.

Valencia have the chance to end the season with a first ever domestic and European double. They meet Olympique Marseille in the final of the UEFA Cup on May 19.

"We wanted to finish the job off today," said coach Rafa Benitez, "in order to concentrate on preparing for the UEFA Cup final. Also, we were determined to do it for all the wonderful fans who have cheered us on today."

Valencia produced the sort of slick and highly disciplined performance that has characterized their season to earn themselves a sixth league title in their 85-year history.

Benitez's men took the sting out of an aggressive Sevilla in the opening minutes and then hit their opponents with a devastating counter-attack launched from inside their own half in the 12th minute.

Diminutive forward Xisco back-heeled the ball into the path of Vicente after receiving a quick pass down on the left flank from defender Amedeo Carboni.

The speedy winger, who has been outstanding all season, raced towards the area, fended off a challenge from Sevilla defender Javi Navarro and drilled the ball past keeper Esteban at the near post to the delight of the 3,000-strong contingent of traveling Valencia fans.

Rare error

Valencia made a rare error at the back when Baptista's strike partner Carlitos got ahead of centre-back Carlos Marchena late in the first half but he sent his header over the bar.

It was the visitors, though, who looked to have extended their lead three minutes later when Jorge Lopez turned sharply and fired home after controlling a Vicente cross with his chest, but the goal was ruled out for a non-existent offside.

Sevilla also had the ball in the net before the break when Carlitos headed home an Antonio Lopez cross, but this time the Sevilla forward had begun his run from an offside position.

The Andalucians, who knew that a win would put them into a UEFA Cup berth, put Valencia under heavy pressure early in the second half and both midfielder Sergio Ramos and substitute striker Antonito went close to scoring.

Keeper Santiago Canizares, whose team has conceded only 24 goals all season, came to the rescue when he blocked a close-range shot from Sevilla striker Dario Silva 15 minutes from time.

Valencia had to endure a few more scares before Baraja made sure of the win when he latched on to a short pass from Xisco, darted into the area, checked inside three defenders and slotted home with his left foot.


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