In a season of uncertainty and challenges, Valencia Football Club have finally staved off the threat of relegation and have secured their place in the top flight of La Liga for another year at least.The threat of dropping down a division loomed deep into the final day of this year’s competition, but arguably the crucial turning point for survival rested on back to back victories over Celta Vigo and Real Madrid, and a precious home point from the game with relegation rivals Espanyol.
In Galicia, ‘Los Che’ won 2-1. The lively Justin Kluivert put Valencia ahead early in the game, only for Celta’s Swiss international Haris Seferovic to equalise on the hour mark. With the game heading for a stalemate, Alberto Mari came off the bench and headed a bullet-like header (from an inviting cross by Foulquier) past the Vigo goalkeeper Ivan Villar. Late drama saw Paulista sent off in the sixth minute of injury time as Celta pressed in vain for another goal.
Valencia were back at the Mestalla for the next game against Real Madrid and their fans support played a major part in ensuring the hosts took maximum points from the contest. Unfortunately, the game will be remembered less for the goal by Diego Lopez but more for the controversy involving Vinicius Junior. During the second half, the talented Brazilian winger was subject to racial abuse from a section of fans behind the goal in the “Curva Nord.” He reacted angrily to the protagonists in the crowd and a melee ensued between both sets of players during a ten-minute delay in which the Real Madrid coach Carlos Ancelotti had to convince the star striker to continue playing.
Deep into injury time, tempers flared again with the Copa Del Rey champions pressurizing for an equaliser. Prior to a Real Madrid corner being taken, the standard pushing and shoving whilst jostling for position took place…as is now standard from all clubs in dead ball situations heading into the penalty area. At some point during the sequence, the Valencia striker Hugo Duro had Vinicius Junior in a headlock and, in response, the Rio de Janeiro born star seemed to lash out at Hugo Duro by striking him in the face.
Initially, Hugo Duro and the Real Madrid forward were given yellow cards but as a result of the confrontation the referee was asked to refer to the video for VAR. After reviewing the course of events, the actions of Vinicius Jr got upgraded to a red card. This brought a frustrated reaction from the striker that continued long after the game and concluded in a spat on Twitter between Vinicius Jr and the President of La Liga Javier Tebas.
Vinicius Junior remonstrated that La Liga “belongs to the racists” to which Tebas responded that the footballer had twice not turned up for requesting meetings on the subject with the President prior to the Valencia game. A few days later, the red card the player received against Valencia was rescinded, the Curva Nord was closed for the next five league games, and were fined 45,000 Euros.
The club responded quickly citing the decision as unfair and disproportionate. An appeal to La Liga quickly followed which reduced the verdict to the ‘Mario Kempes’ stand area being shut for three games and a 27,000 euros penalty. Valencia last home game at the Mestalla saw Espanyol as visitors minus the fans of the Curva Nord. Scarfs replaced bodies on many of the empty seats.
The Barcelona based side required a victory to have any chance of survival. They looked to be on the way to achieving that after a Diego Lopez opener for Valencia had been rendered meaningless after goals from César Montes and Martin Braithwaite. However, a last gasp equaliser in the third minute of injury time by Samuel Lino gave Valencia a desperate point and condemned Espanol to second division football next season.
Heading into the last game, six clubs were in danger of occupying the final relegation spot. A fantastic scenario for the neutral but nail-biting for fans of the teams involved. The different permutations were super complicated as several of the threatened teams had match ups with each other, but Valencia’s chances of not surviving relegation were calculated at less than 2 %.
These permutations also only came into play for Valencia if Valladolid failed to beat Getafe. However, if Paulo Pezzolano’s men did beat the team from Madrid, then the results that left Valencia relegated were as follows:
Scenario One – Valencia and Cadiz lose, whilst Celta and Almeria win. This would leave Valencia bottom of a three team mini-group involving Cadiz and Getafe.
Scenario Two – Valencia and Cadiz lose, Celta win and Almeria draw. This would leave Valencia bottom a four team mini group involving Cadiz, Getafe and Almeria.
At half time, it was looking precarious for Valencia with only Valladolid’s goalless score at home to Getafe keeping Los Che out of the bottom three. As it happened Valladolid could not find the net in the second half either, confirming them as the third club, along with Espanol and Elche to drop down a level next season. However, Valencia’s placed 16th in the league, a position captained José Luis Gayà called “lamentable” in an interview pitch side immediately after the end of the game. It was the first time the club had finished lower than 13th in La Liga since the 1987-88 season and only the third time in their top-flight history that they had finished in such a low position. The summer could now be a hectic one for Valencia with a lot of loan moves to be decided on, and many off the field questions needing answers and clarification.
Meanwhile, Levante UD just missed out on automatic promotion. Finishing in third spot they are in a strong position to reach the final play off stages after scoring three away goals in their first leg of the semi-final against Albacete who only managed one goal. If they do manage to come through the second part of the equation they will have to get past either Eibar or Alavés to play in La Liga next season. The two Basque teams drew 1-1 in the first leg at the Ipurúa stadium. Arguably, the most successful club in the city this year has been the Levante UD Femenino. They finished third in Liga F behind the champions Barcelona and Real Madrid. They are rewarded with a spot in next year’s Champions League.
Finally, there is a treat for fans in the region of Colombia and Iraq. The two countries will play a friendly at the Mestalla on Friday June 16th. Tickets are available from the box office at the ground during working hours on weekdays.
Report by John Howden
Article copyright 24/7 Valencia