Villarreal pip Atletico, Malaga beat Granada in La Liga

Indo Asian News Service

Madrid, April 26 (IANS) Villarreal strengthened their fifth position in the La Liga football championship as they overcame third-placed Atletico Madrid 1-0, while Malaga registered their fifth win in six matches with a 2-0 win over Granada.

Villarreal, thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Andres Fernandez and an opportunistic strike in the 81st minute by Roberto Soriano on Tuesday, got the better of Atletico at home, reports Efe.

Fernandez made fine saves in the first half against Angel Correa and Antoine Griezmann, and those were only the best of Atletico's opportunities.

At the other end of the pitch, host keeper Jan Oblak barely touched the ball during the first 45 minutes.

Nico Gaitan tested Fernandez early in the second half before being replaced by Yannick Carrasco in the 55th minute, just as Correa gave way to Kevin Gameiro.

But Carrasco left with an injury in the 71st minute and Atletico started to run out of steam, leaving themselves open to the kind of threats that led to Soriano's goal with nine minutes left.

Fifth-placed Villarreal climbed to 60 points from 34 matches and are within striking distance of fourth-placed Sevilla and the accompanying Champions League berth.

Atletico, with 68 points, are just three points ahead of Sevilla, who have played one fewer match.

In Granada, Malaga dominated from the opening whistle against the hosts and would have put the match to bed in the first half but for an inability to finish their chances. Home goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa had to make five stops in the first 45 minutes.

The second half began the same way, with the difference that Malaga scored on their first chance when a Sandro Ramirez found the back of the net in the 47th minute.

Granada's first shot of the night came in the 65th minute and visiting keeper Carlos Kameni comfortably diverted a strike by Rene Krhin.

Sandro scored a second for Malaga in extra time as Malaga, with 39 points from 34 matches, climbed to the 14th place. For Granada, with just 20 points, a loss on Saturday against Real Sociedad might result in the relegation.

In another match, Sporting Gijon played a 1-1 draw with Espanyol, missing out on two points that would have bolstered their dwindling hopes of avoiding relegation from La Liga.

Chances developed for both squads as the minutes passed, but neither seemed capable of seizing the initiative until the 38th minute, when Victor Rodriguez put Sporting ahead 1-0 with a direct free kick that surprised the Espanyol goalkeeper and defenders.

Espanyol lost Felipe Caicedo for the night after the Brazilian striker collided with Sporting keeping Cuellar while both were chasing a loose ball at the El Molinon stadium.

The visitors dominated early in the second half and Jurado botched a chance to equalise, but Gerard Moreno made no mistake in the 54th minute when a great ball from Leo Batistao -- Caicedo's replacement -- found him alone in front of the Sporting net.

Minutes later, Duje Cop inexplicably missed a chance to put Sporting back in the lead.

The hosts mounted a late charge, but were unable to get the vital second goal.

Espanyol, with 50 points from 34 matches, sit in ninth place. Sporting, who have only 24 points, remain mired in 18th, three points from safety.