A 2-2 draw at Valencia made sure that Luis Garca’s team won’t be one of the teams trying to stay in the league on the last day.
‘Cruel’: Espanyol collapse but leave six in La Liga danger zone
When the game was over, Espanyol’s captain put his shirt over his face and started crying. A staff member took him by the arm and led him off the Mestalla pitch and out of the first division.
Sergi Darder said, “We didn’t deserve it to end like this,” which was about all he could say. Three men had to hold him together and move him to the camera, where his voice cracked and his eyes hurt. That, “I’m sorry,” and a promise to come back were hard for him to hear and say. Then he put up an apology hand and left with his head covered.
“When we were the closest, it was gone: it was cruel,” said his coach, Luis Garca. In the 37th week of the longest and tightest relegation fight anyone had ever seen, in the 93rd minute, when someone’s grip on survival finally broke, it was theirs. “We had fought so hard to have our final at home with our people,” Darder said, but Espanyol will not be in the fight for survival next Sunday.
Six other teams are divided by only two points: Valladolid, Celta Vigo, Almera, Valencia, Cádiz, and Getafe. Their fates and hearts are in their own hands.
They were almost seven, which was more than a third of the group. If Espanyol has been the team most likely to go down for a long time, with safety always just out of reach, this has been Spain’s Sarlacc pit, a place from which no team has been able to escape except Sevilla, and from which no team has been able to escape except Elche, who has been gone for weeks.
Every time it looked like it was over, it wasn’t, and each combo made it seem more like it was planned. Who would have thought that in the past week, Valladolid would beat Barcelona, Valencia would beat Madrid, Getafe would win at Betis, and Espanyol would come back from being down 3-0 to tie Atlético? Where someone with more than 40 points could lose?
It seemed to get tighter with each week that went by. In this, the second-to-last week, six clubs in danger of being eliminated played each other, and everyone played at the same time, which made the stress crazy.
Getafe beat Osasuna 2-1 in the pouring rain at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez on Jaime Mata’s first goal in 18 months. He called it the worst shot of his life. Getafe had been losing to Osasuna for the first two minutes of the game. The Carranza in Cádiz looked like the Bombonera, and the home team was up 1-0 after Gonzalo Escalante did a great job of setting up Rubén Sobrino.
Iago Aspas was playing even though he was hurt—he said he was “practically in a wheelchair”—but Celta hadn’t found an answer yet, and Conan Ledesma made a terrible save. On the other side of Andaluca, Almera was dominating Valladolid. They had 23 goals, but they still couldn’t score.
At Mestalla, a match between two relegation-threatened teams with more first division seasons than anyone else except Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol led Valencia 2-1 after coming back from being down a goal.
All of this meant that, as extra time began, there were seven teams within three points of each other. Espanyol was on 38 points, Valladolid was on 39, Celta, Almera, and Valencia were all on 40, Getafe and Cádiz were both on 41, and Getafe and Valencia were both on 42.
The Espanyol players again crowded around the judge, while the Valencia players just ran around, going nowhere and everywhere. Some did it anyway, but others no longer had the strength or mind to do it. Mouctar Diakhaby lay there with his arms out, like a star on the grass. Most of them thought that safety had been made sure.
They could still go down, though, if they end with the same number of points as Cádiz, Getafe, and Celta. That’s because Spain uses head-to-head if two teams finish with the same number of points and a mini-league if more than two teams finish with the same number of points. In this case, Valencia would finish last. “There’s a way, but we’re going to think positively,” said Baraja.
There are many possible outcomes since a five-way tie is still possible. Only one thing is certain: Espanyol, like Elche, has gone, fallen for the second time in four years and feeling like it was taken from them. Atlético Madrid had been given a goal four days earlier because Pacheco had stopped the ball on or over the line. Now, another call had gone against them.
“This has been a good reflection of our season,” Darder said. “We’ve done so much wrong, and there’s no excuse because 38 games put everyone in their place, but once again, things we couldn’t control have gone against us.”