Celta escapes the drop in dramatic finale

Real Sociedad reaches Champions League as Depor, Mallorca and Zaragoza go down

Celta players and fans celebrate with goalscorer Natxo Insa (center) at the final whistle.
Celta players and fans celebrate with goalscorer Natxo Insa (center) at the final whistle. LALO R. VILLAR (DIARIO AS)

Heartbreak for Deportivo la Coruña was born of unbridled joy for near-neighbor Real Sociedad on Saturday night, as the final round of Liga matches unfolded. The former went into the contest at Riazor with its own fate in its hands, precisely as it had done two years ago, again on the final day of the season. Victory would have assured Depor's Primera survival; Real Sociedad needed to win and trust that Valencia did not to reach the Champions League playoffs.

As was the case two seasons ago, Depor fell short. The visitor's 1-0 win and a combination of results elsewhere condemned Fernando Vázquez's side to Segunda and a more than uncertain financial future. Antoine Griezmann's goal assured La Real an immediate windfall of more than two million euros, rising to 10 million if the playoff round is successfully negotiated. Depor's spiraling debt is controlled by the creditors. It was a multi-million-euro 90 minutes, from which one of the combatants would not bounce back overnight.

Compounding the grief of Depor fans were the tears of Juan Carlos Valerón, the club talisman who will not return to guide his side back up, as he did in the 2011-12 season. The 38-year-old said he did not plan to hang up his boots yet though, and offers for the graceful midfielder will be plentiful.

Joining Depor in Segunda next season are Zaragoza and Mallorca, despite the latter winning convincingly. Too little, too late.

At the Sánchez Pizjuán there were also bent heads and poignant scenes as Sevilla ended Valencia's hopes of Champions League soccer. Jesús Navas, the club's longest-serving player, was mobbed by teammates after the home side's 4-3 win and was unable to contain his emotions. Navas has long suffered from a crippling anxiety problem that prevented him from being part of the national team until he was persuaded to travel to South Africa in 2010. His new-found wanderlust has excited the interest of Manchester City, which is at the front of the line for his signature.

Álvaro Negredo also appears intent on seeking pastures new and added a couple of million to his price tag by bagging all four goals on the night – one an acrobatic overhead kick – to end the season as the top Spanish scorer in La Liga.

Álvaro Negredo scored four to end the season as top Spanish marksman in La Liga

For Valencia the word "loss" carries two meanings, its most immediate concern being the financial ramifications of not securing qualification for Champions League soccer for the first time since 2008-09. At a club already required to sell its best players every summer, the blow will be felt like a hammer in the face. Ernesto Valverde told his players before the game that he would not be their coach next season and although there will be a long line of aspirants for the role, a little of its sheen was stripped away in Seville.

The weekend's big winner was Celta Vigo, not least because its survival in Primera came at the expense of local rival Depor. Going into the 9pm kick-offs, Celta needed to win and hope that Depor lost to stay up. Had the Riazor side found an equalizer, Celta's battling 1-0 win over Espanyol would have been rendered irrelevant. "We needed to win and we won," said a typically ebullient Abel Resino after the match, during which Iago Aspas made the winner for Natxo Insa and 17-year-old keeper Rubén Blanco kept Espanyol at bay.

Farewells were also the order of the day at the other end of the table, where Real Madrid hosted Osasuna, and Barcelona achieved the 100-point mark to add some luster to a league title wrapped up weeks ago. José Mourinho was the focus of attention at the Bernabéu as a fairly well-contested exhibition match ended up 4-2 to the home side. Gonzalo Higuaín opened the scoring for Real and added fuel to the fire of rumors of his departure by celebrating very mutely indeed. After the match the Argentinean, captain for the day as Real's longest-serving player in the squad, confirmed he had scored his last goal for the club.

Mourinho, who was intent on leaving his mark, handed debuts to a few youth team players, as well as leaving Iker Casillas and Pepe out of the squad entirely. He only paused to applaud the club's radical supporters, the Ultras Sur, at the whistle, completely ignoring the rest of the stadium, which is where his dissenters have lurked all season.

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