Madrid, Jul 11 (efe-epa).- Atletico Madrid saw two goals disallowed here Saturday against Real Betis and played more than a third of the match with 10 men, but still eked out a 1-0 victory to guarantee themselves a spot in the Champions League in 2020-2021.
Two-time defending champions Barcelona, meanwhile, moved to within a point of current leaders Real Madrid, though the Blancos have a game in hand.
Now third in LaLiga with 66 points from 36 matches, Atleti lead Sevilla by 3 points and have a 9-point advantage over fifth-place Villarreal.
Even if they lost both of their remaining matches, the Colchoneros would finish no lower than fourth by virtue of a head-to-head edge against Villarreal.
Not so long ago, qualifying for Champions League was an infrequent occurrence for Atletico. Yet after eight consecutive years of participating, including two apperances in the final, failing to reach Europe’s elite club competition would be unthinkable.
Those eight seasons of Champions League play under coach Diego Simeone have brought 419.8 million ($474.2 million) into the club’s coffers, not including money from sponsorship deals and ticket sales.
Securing the Champions berth means that Simeone can afford to rest players in preparation for the upcoming renewal of the 2019-2020 Champions League competition.
Betis, with 41 points, are 13th and safe from relegation.
Angel Correa appeared to put Atletico ahead in the 21st minute, only for the goal to be taken down because a VAR review showed that the ball brushed Marcos Llorente’s arm.
VAR struck again in the 34th minute, disallowing an Alvaro Morata goal because the shooter was – barely – offside.
Betis were poised to grab the lead early in the second half, but Loren Moron missed the target when he tried to chip the ball over Atleti keeper Jan Oblak.
With the match still deadlocked, Simeone made a triple-change in the 55th minute: replacing Saul with Yannick Carrasco, Llorente with Vitolo and Morata with Diego Costa.
Two minutes later, the hosts went down to 10 men as Mario Hermoso was sent off with a straight red card for a pointless foul against Moron.
Despite the man advantage and dominating possession, Betis couldn’t get past Oblak and Costa redirected a Carrasco free-kick into the opposing goal in the 74th to claim all 3 points for Atletico.
In Valladolid, Arturo Vidal’s goal in the 11th minute turned out to be enough for Barcelona to secure a 1-0 victory and go to 79 points, one less than Real Madrid.
The goal also marked yet another milestone for Lionel Messi, who posted his record 20th assist of the LaLiga season.
Real Valladolid are 14th in table with 39 points.
Saturday’s early match saw Osasuna come from behind to beat visiting Celta Vigo 2-1.
Santi Mina put Celta ahead 1-0 in the 10th minute. Enric Gallego equalized for the hosts in the 23rd and the teams remained deadlocked until the 92 minute, when Jose Arnaiz got the winner for Osasuna.
The home side remain 11th, though level on points with 10th-place Athletic. Celta, in 16th place, are just 4 points above the drop zone. EFE