MADRID (AP) — Playing its first home game with a section of Mestalla Stadium closed as punishment for the racist abuse against Vinícius Júnior, Valencia moved closer to avoiding relegation from the Spanish league thanks to a stoppage-time equalizer in a 2-2 draw against Espanyol.
Valencia had the first of three matches with a small section of Mestalla closed behind one of the goals where the abuse targeting Vinícius took place in a match against Real Madrid a week ago.
Valencia was initially ordered to close the section for five matches but the punishment was reduced on appeal. The club’s initial fine of 45,000 euros ($48,200) was also reduced to 27,000 euros ($28,900).
The draw was enough to relegate Espanyol for the second time in three seasons. Espanyol was set to take its fight against relegation to the final round but Samuel Lino scored Valencia’s equalizer with a shot from inside the area three minutes into stoppage time.
Valencia dropped to 15th place but stayed two points clear of the relegation zone ahead of its match at sixth-place Real Betis next Sunday.
Valencia had called the punishment “unfair and disproportionate” because it claimed it acted quickly to cooperate with authorities, which eventually arrested three people in Valencia.
Valencia immediately banned the three fans for life.
“Respect for our fans,” read a large banner at the closed section.
“Together against racism,” were the words on a smaller banner in the same section.
Second-to-last-place Espanyol had been relegated in 2020 for the first time in nearly three decades. It returned to the top flight in its first attempt as second-division champion.
“It was a tremendous effort by everyone,” Valencia coach Rubén Baraja said. “Mestalla kept pushing and helped us find the equalizer.”
Six teams will enter the final round hoping to avoid the final relegation spot. Last-place Elche has already been relegated.
Cadiz, Getafe, Valencia, Almeria, Celta Vigo and Valladolid are the teams still in danger.
Valladolid is the first team currently inside the relegation zone, sitting one point behind both 17th-place Celta and 16th-place Almeria.
Valencia, 14th-place Getafe and 13th-place Cadiz are two points ahead of Valladolid, which drew 0-0 at Almeria.
Getafe boosted its chances with Jaime Mata scoring a 90th-minute winner to lead a 2-1 comeback victory over Osasuna at home.
Cadiz needed a 53rd-minute winner in its 1-0 home victory against Celta, which has won only one of its last 11 matches.
Celta hosts champion Barcelona in the final round, while Getafe visits Valladolid, Cadiz is at Elche and Espanyol hosts Almeria.
BARCELONA WINS AGAIN
Barcelona beat 10-man Mallorca 3-0 for its first win after clinching the league title.
Ansu Fati scored a pair of first-half goals and Gavi added another after halftime to lead the champions to victory after two consecutive losses.
Mallorca, sitting in 12th place, played a man down from the 14th after Amath Ndiaye was sent off for a hard foul on Barcelona left back Alejandro Balde, who was not able to continue. The club later said Balde sustained a partial tear of a ligament in his right ankle and will be sidelined for six to seven weeks.
It was Barcelona’s last league game at Camp Nou before it moves to the smaller Lluís Companys Olympic Stadium in Montjuic with renovation work at the Camp Nou starting next season.
It was also the last game at Camp Nou for veterans Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, who will not remain with the Catalan club next season. They both received a standing ovation from the home crowd while being substituted late, with Alba leaving the field in tears.
Atletico Madrid clinched a top-three finish for the 11th straight time after a 2-1 home win over fourth-place Real Sociedad.
Antoine Griezmann and Nahuel Molina scored a goal in each half for Atletico, which will enter the final round one point behind city rival Madrid.
Sociedad secured the final Champions League spot despite the loss as fifth-place Villarreal stayed five points back after a 2-1 defeat at Rayo Vallecano.
Villarreal and Real Betis, which won 2-1 at Girona, secured the Europa League places.
Five teams will contend for the lone Europa Conference League spot, which is currently held by seventh-place Osasuna.
Eighth-place Athletic Bilbao lost 1-0 to Elche at home after a stoppage-time goal by Lucas Boyé.
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