Valencia could complete comeback after dismal start

Valencia forward Kevin Gameiro scores his side's opening goal during the Europa League semifinal soccer match, second leg, between Valencia and Arsenal at the Camp de Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Thursday, May 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
Valencia forward Rodrigo reacts during the Europa League semifinal soccer match, second leg, between Valencia and Arsenal at the Camp de Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Thursday, May 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
Valencia forward Kevin Gameiro celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the Europa League semifinal soccer match, second leg, between Valencia and Arsenal at the Camp de Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Thursday, May 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)

MADRID — After a dismal start, Valencia is a couple of wins away from completing an unlikely comeback.

The club can secure the final Champions League spot in the Spanish league on Sunday, and a week later it will have a chance to win the Copa del Rey title.

Not even Valencia's most hardcore fans saw this coming after the team started the season by winning only one of its first 13 games in all competitions. Most would likely be happy just to see the team safely escaping demotion by now.

"This was unthinkable after what happened in the first half of the season," Valencia defender Jose Luis Gaya said Sunday after the team's 3-1 win over Alaves, which put the team in fourth place for the first time this season. "We never gave up, and now we need to finish the job in the final round."

Valencia will visit Valladolid on Saturday needing victory to seal fourth place. The hosts will have nothing to play for after securing their spot in the first division with a win at Rayo Vallecano on Sunday. Valencia is level on points with modest Getafe, but it holds the advantage on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

"We are lucky to arrive in the final round depending only on ourselves," Valencia coach Marcelino Garcia Toral said. "I don't really know if it's an advantage that our opponent is already safe. I don't know if they are going to play better or worse. They don't have an obligation to win now. I don't know how it's going to be."

Getafe, which hosts Villarreal on Saturday, had been holding on to fourth place for 11 of the last 12 rounds, but it dropped to fifth after losing to champion Barcelona 2-0 at the Camp Nou on Sunday.

Sevilla also has a chance to grab the final Champions League spot, but it trails Valencia and Getafe by two points ahead of its home match against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

Valencia had been in good position in the fight for fourth place until consecutive losses to Atletico Madrid and Eibar, this last one in a home match in which it squandered several scoring opportunities before conceding late in injury time to drop to sixth in the standings, three points behind both Getafe and Sevilla.

Valencia then had two losses to Arsenal in the semifinals of the Europa League, but it defeated Huesca 6-2 in the league.

Celebrating its centennial, Valencia entered the season with high expectations after a fourth-place finish in the Spanish league. Singaporean owner Peter Lim added several players to the squad, including Kevin Gameiro and Michy Batshuayi, and some even gave Valencia an outside chance of contending for the league title.

But the season began with disappointments, and the team's first victory came only in the seventh round, at Real Sociedad. It didn't win again until the 12th round, at Getafe, and it finished the first half with only 23 points.

The team also didn't do well in its first Champions League appearance in three years, being eliminated in a group with Juventus, Manchester United and Young Boys.

The turnaround began near the halfway point of the season with a run of 12 straight league matches without a loss. It defeated Real Madrid at home and Sevilla away, and earned a draw against Barcelona at Camp Nou.

Valencia went a total of 17 matches without a loss in all competitions to get in position for a great finish to its season, which will culminate with the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in Seville on May 25.

"It's been years since Valencia had a season like this one," Toral said. "Hopefully we will finish it well."

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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