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Atletico slips in title race after 1-1 draw with Girona

(AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

By JOSEPH WILSON

Associated Press

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Atletico Madrid stumbled in the Spanish league title race on Saturday after conceding a late goal to draw 1-1 with Girona at home.

Second-placed Atletico was left eight points behind leader Barcelona, which can increase the gap if it wins at Real Betis on Sunday.

Diego Costa's headed pass set up Antoine Griezmann to put Atletico ahead in the 34th minute.

But Atletico failed to press for a second goal, and a defensive slip helped Girona level in the 73rd.

Cristian "Portu" Portugues was free in the area to score when Bernardo Espinosa headed forward a poor clearance by substitute Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion.

"We had control of the game and knew that their chances depended on us making an error," Atletico defender Jose Gimenez said. "And that is what happened. We lost our concentration for a moment and they found their goal."

Girona's equalizer came after Atletico coach Diego Simeone had substituted Griezmann and Costa as the hosts sought to defend their slim advantage. Simeone said Costa came off due to unspecified pain that was bothering the striker.

Regarded as Spain's top defensive side, Atletico also conceded two late goals at home to lose 2-1 at Sevilla in the Copa del Rey earlier this week. It will now have to travel to Sevilla to overturn that defeat in their second-leg quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Simeone said his team had been unlucky.

"We were in charge until their goal arrived in a complicated situation," Simeone said. "There are episodes of the match that sometimes favor you, and sometimes go against you. I take away the sensation that we played well."

It was Portu's eighth goal of the season for Girona, a top-flight newcomer that has far exceeded expectations and risen to eighth place. Girona also held Atletico to a 2-2 stalemate in the league's opening round, beat Real Madrid 2-1 in October, and routed Las Palmas 6-0 in the last round.

"We are a pesky team and go to every ground looking to win, and we showed that again today," Portu said.

Girona played the second half with backup goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz after starter Yassine Bounou asked to be substituted due to an injury late in the first half.

Villarreal overtook Real Madrid to go fourth after beating Levante 2-1 at home.

Villarreal has earned 13 of the last 15 available points and moved two points ahead of Madrid, which has two games in hand, in the fight for the final Champions League spot.

Samuel Castillejo stood out for Villarreal, twice hitting the post and setting up Manuel Trigueros to score a penalty in the 26th after he dribbled between two defenders and was tripped by goalkeeper Oier Olazabal.

Denis Cheryshev added a second goal early in the second half. He was substituted shortly after when he failed to recover from a knock to his right leg when he clipped the goalpost while sliding to tap in Enes Unal's pass.

Roger Marti converted a penalty on the last kick of the match for Levante's goal.

Luis Muriel set up one goal before adding Sevilla's third to complete a 3-0 win at Espanyol.

The team's first win in six rounds pulled it level on points with Madrid.

After Franco Vazquez got Sevilla going, Muriel set up Pablo Sarabia to double the lead in the 34th. The Colombia striker then received a pass from Sarabia to get his goal in the 90th.

Sevilla paid a club-record 20 million euros to sign Muriel from Italian club Sampdoria last summer. But he has failed to impress at Sevilla. His goal Saturday was his fifth in all competitions this season.

The win was a second straight victory under coach Vincenzo Montella, who had struggled to settle in since arriving late last month.

Updated January 20, 2018

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