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Atletico’s loss makes Primera Liga ‘much more interesting’

Atletico Madrid’s march to the Spanish Primera Liga title hit a bump when the league leaders lost 2-0 at Levante on Sunday, meaning Diego Simeone’s side likely must win their remaining two games to hold off Real Madrid and Barcelona and claim a first championship since 1996.

Diego Costa, centre, and his Atletico Madrid cannot believe the opportunity lost to draw the Primera Liga title closer in losing 2-0 to host Levante at Ciutat de Valencia Stadium on May 4, 2014 in Valencia, Spain.  Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno / Getty Images
Diego Costa, centre, and his Atletico Madrid cannot believe the opportunity lost to draw the Primera Liga title closer in losing 2-0 to host Levante at Ciutat de Valencia Stadium on May 4, 2014 in Valencia, Spain. Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno / Getty Images

BARCELONA // Atletico Madrid’s march to the Spanish Primera Liga title hit a bump when the league leaders lost 2-0 at Levante on Sunday, meaning Diego Simeone’s side likely must win their remaining two games to hold off Real Madrid and Barcelona and claim a first championship since 1996.

Levante pressed early and were rewarded when Papakouly Diop’s corner kick hit Atletico left-back Filipe Luis in the chest and bounced out of reach of scrambling goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois before settling into the net in the seventh minute.

Atletico improved after bringing on substitutes Arda Turan and Adrian Lopez after half-time but conceded again when striker David Barral beat Courtois on 69 minutes.

Atletico’s first defeat in 10 league games leaves them three points ahead of Barcelona, who host Atletico on the last day of the season. Real Madrid trailed Atletico by six points before Sunday night’s game against Valencia but have a game in hand on their city rivals.

Atletico hold the head-to-head advantage over Real, giving Simeone’s team the tiebreaker if the two sides – set to meet in the Uefa Champions League final on May 24 – also finish level on points in La Liga.

But this stumble throws open the race once again for all three sides, despite Barcelona’s coach and players saying their title defence had been scuttled by their 2-2 draw with Getafe on Saturday.

“Now the league is that much more interesting,” Simeone said.

Atletico’s path to a first domestic league title in 18 years now goes through wins at home over Malaga and then at Camp Nou.

Far from bemoaning the setback, Simeone said that defeat was “the best thing that could happen” to his team to keep them focused on the run-in to the league title and the European final a week later.

“Three weeks of high intensity and emotion await us,” Simeone said.

“This is the ideal moment for my men, for my players. We have three finals ahead of us and we have to concentrate on the first of those, against Malaga next Sunday.”

The large contingent of fans who travelled with Atletico from the Spanish capital still applauded their squad after the final whistle at Ciutat de Valencia Stadium.

Four days after a commanding 3-1 victory at Chelsea to reach the final of the Champions League, Atletico were brought down by a modest Levante side that has outperformed expectations thanks to coach Joaquin Caparros’s defensive focus. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas again played a key role, turning away Raul Garcia’s and Tobias Alderweireld’s goal-bound strikes in each half.

Levante midfielder Pape Diop, who provoked outrage among the Atletico players by dancing in front of the disconsolate travelling fans at the final whistle, said he had been the subject of monkey chanting by Atletico Madrid fans.

“I went to take a corner and some of the Atletico fans began to make monkey chants,” the Senegalese said.“To play it down, I started to dance, but I didn’t insult anyone.

“I don’t have anything against the Atletico fans because it was only a section that shouted. It is a lack of respect that happens in all stadiums. I don’t know if you can call it racist, but the monkey chanting has to stop.”

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