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Real Madrid returns as La Liga Santander champ after edging Villarreal

The La Liga Santander title is back at the hands of Real Madrid.
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--After three years, the La Liga Santander championship trophy returns to the Spanish capital.

Real Madrid clinched the Spanish league crown after beating Villarreal, 2-1, at the former's practice grounds, the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, early Friday (Philippine Time).

Karim Benzema scored a brace to lead Real Madrid past its UEFA Europa League-bound opponent en route to the La Liga Santander title with one match to spare.

The French international struck first for Real Madrid with a 29th minute goal off a Luka Modric feed. Benzema then struck a 77th minute penalty to virtually seal Real Madrid's win.

Vicente Iborra tried to keep Villarreal in the match after heading in an 83rd minute goal to put his club on the board, but Thibaut Courtois pulled off two huge saves in stoppage time to secure all three points for Real Madrid.

Real Madrid won the La Liga Santander title for an unprecedented 34th time, its first since 2017.

The result put the outcome of the Barcelona-Osasuna match for naught in terms of the title race, although Osasuna would still give Real Madrid the title anyway after shocking Barca, 2-1, on the road.

Osasuna's Jose Arnaiz stunned Camp Nou with a 15th minute goal that virtually shut the door on Barca's last dash to keep the championship.

Lionel Messi kept Barca alive with a 62nd minute goal off a free kick, and the club had a shot at taking all three points as Osasuna's Enric Gallego was sent off in the 77th minute.

Barca, however, failed to capitalize on the power play, and Roberto Torres scored the winning goal in stoppage time to give 10-man Osasuna the victory.

Elsewhere, Getafe's bid to make the Europa League suffered a huge hit after UEFA Champions League-bound Atletico Madrid scored a 2-0 win on the road.

With the result, Getafe must beat Levante on the road on Monday (Philippine Time) and hope that Real Sociedad, held to a goalless draw by Sevilla also on Friday, fails to beat Atleti also on Monday to lock in a spot in the Europa League qualifiers.

On the other hand, Granada sent Mallorca into relegation with a 2-1 win, while Alaves turned back Real Betis, 2-1, to formally escape relegation.

Leganes' bid to stay in the first division got a ray of hope with a 2-0 win against Bilbao coupled by Celta Vigo's 2-3 loss to Levante.

Leganes must now beat Real Madrid at home on Monday and hope that Vigo drops points in Barcelona against relegation-bound Espanyol to retain its top flight status.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno_