Striker Roberto Soldado scored
a hat-trick as Valencia ran out 3-0 winners at Europa League
rivals Athletic Bilbao on Sunday and strengthened their hold on
third place in La Liga.
Soldado, who is in the running for a place in the Spain
squad at Euro 2012, pounced on a poor back-pass to net the opener
after 41 minutes and struck a superb first-time shot after the
break for the second.
He racked up his 15th of the campaign from the penalty spot
after a handball from home defender Mikel San Jose, who also
underhit the backpass in the first half.
Bilbao struggled to replicate the eye-catching form that
helped them knock Manchester United out of the Europa League
last week. They were missing injured striker Fernando Llorente
and had defender Andoni Iraola sent off in the 66th minute.
Valencia moved on to 47 points with 11 left to play, 16
points behind second-placed Barcelona, who won 2-0 at Sevilla on
Levante continued to defy predictions with a 1-0 victory at
home to regional rivals Villarreal and climbed up to fourth with
41 points thanks to the 92nd-minute winner from Xavi Torres.
The result caused Villarreal to sack their coach Jose
Molina, one point from their last five matches leaving them
17th with 27 points, three above the relegation places.
Bilbao were seventh with 37 points, one ahead of Atletico
Madrid in ninth.
Ten-man Real Mallorca overcame Atletico 2-1 at home, the
match turning in a crazy 10 minutes at the start of the second
Atletico's Diego Godin turned a shot into his own net in the
47th, Michael Pereira doubled the lead two minutes later and the
islanders had defender Ivan Ramis sent off for handball in the
Mallorca's Dudu Aouate saved the ensuing penalty from
Radamel Falcao, though the Colombia striker responded with an
outstanding lob to pull one back for the visitors in the 66th.
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