MADRID (AFP) – Barcelona closed to within two points of leaders Real Madrid as Sergio Busquets’s stoppage time handed them a 1-0 win at Valencia on a day La Liga was marred by the death of a Deportivo la Coruna fan who was pulled from a freezing river following violent clashes between rival supporters.
The 43-year-old man was rescued by firefighters from the Manzanares river near the Vicente Calderon stadium, where Deportivo went on to lose 2-0 to Atletico Madrid, but died of cardiac arrest shortly afterwards. He also suffered head injuries and hypothermia.
Police confirmed they made 24 arrests after the incidents in which another 11 people, including a police officer, suffered minor injuries.
The Spanish football league said in a statement it had tried to postpone the game at the last minute, but it hadn’t been possible.
Among those arrested were members of the Atletico and Deportivo ultra groups, Frente Atletico and Riazor Blues, as well ultras from the Bukaneros and Alkor Hooligans groups who follow Madrid-based sides Rayo Vallecano and Alcorcon.
Atletico boss Diego Simeone insisted that Spanish society must deal with the problem rather than football clubs alone.
“It is a social problem, not a football one. They are people that live for the shirt, that are fans of a team, but it is a societal problem,” he said.
On the field, Barca ensured their title hopes remained intact when Busquets volleyed home from close range three minutes into stoppage time to inflict Valencia’s first home defeat of the season.
However, there were more unsavoury scenes at Mestalla as Lionel Messi was struck on the head by a plastic bottle thrown from the crowd as Barca celebrated their winner.
“We were lucky to score in the last minute. These are three points that will give us a huge boost,” Busquets told Canal Plus.
“We never settle for a draw, we tried in every way possible and in the end it came from a corner. We had been attacking them for a few minutes and when the ball fell to me from Alves I gave it everything I had.”
Barca looked on course to fall four points behind Real Madrid as Valencia had kept their star trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez quiet for the vast majority of the game.
Suarez missed a golden opportunity either side of half-time and also had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside 22 minutes from time.
However, Barca also had goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to thank for keeping them in the game as he made fine saves from Sofiane Feghouli and Alvaro Negredo in the closing stages before Busquets snatched all three points.
Earlier, Atletico once again relied on their expertise from set-pieces to claim all three points against Deportivo in front of an understandably subdued Calderon.
Saul Niguez headed in from Koke’s free-kick to give the hosts the lead just before half-time and Arda Turan’s deflected effort doubled their advantage 10 minutes after the break as Deportivo could only clear a corner to the edge of the area where the Turkish international was lurking.
“We cannot expand on the details because we don’t know them and they are under investigation,” said Atletico president Enrique Cerezo when quizzed on the violence.
“I repeat that neither Atletico Madrid nor Deportivo have anything to do with these radical groups that have their own histories and stories.”
Sevilla climbed above Valencia into fourth thanks to their first win in four league games, 5-1 at home to Granada.
Carlos Bacca opened the scoring midway through the first half when he bundled home from close range, but the visitors levelled through Youssef Al-Arabi from the penalty spot just before the break.
Sevilla weren’t to be denied, though, as Ever Banega slotted home following a goalmouth scramble to register his first goal for the club before Bacca, Stephane M’bia and Kevin Gameiro sealed the three points late on.