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Two-goal Soldado boosts hopes of Spain recall
Roberto Soldado scored both goals to take his La Liga season's tally to 11 as Valencia defeated Malaga 2-0 on Sunday, a victory which kept his side in third place and in the hunt for a Champions League place.
In an absorbing encounter, Malaga missed chance after chance with Valencia old boy Joaquin Sanchez looking dangerous all evening.
Soldado was not so forgiving in front of goal as he stayed firmly in contention for a recall to the Spanish side in the new year, especially with first choice David Villa out for up to five months with a broken leg.
For his first goal Jonas Goncalves produced a superb ball through the Malaga defence that Soldado latched onto before skipping around goalkeeper Willy Caballero to break the deadlock on 36 minutes.
His second was thumped home on the volley on 61 minutes after a great run and cross on the left from Jordi Alba.
Soldado missed the chance to notch a hat-trick with 10 minutes remaining when he chipped the ball wide with only Cabellero to beat.
Defeat meant Malaga dropped to seventh and out of the Europa Cup positions.
Levante stay fourth after losing 2-1 at Granada.
Granada were fortunate to get a dubious penalty on 35 minutes after the referee signalled that Jose Barkero had handled in the box.
Guilherme Siqueira cooly slotted the penalty home and Abel Gomez made it two on the stroke of half-time, converting the rebound after Odion Ighalo has struck the post.
Levante rallied and Arouna Kone scored with a near-post header from a corner on 60 minutes but Granada held on for an important victory that lifted them to 13th position in the table.
Real Betis won 2-0 away at Atletico Madrid with second half goals from Alejandro Pozuelo -- who was sent off late on for two yellow cards -- and Roque Santa Cruz to inflict the first home defeat of the season on the team from the capital.
The result created more doubt over the future of Atletico coach Gregorio Manzano who has struggled to find any league form all season.
Atletico are struggling in 10th position, a huge 21 points behind city rivals and leaders Real.
Real Madrid won 6-2 away to Sevilla on Saturday thanks to a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo and goals from Jose Callejon, Hamit Alintop and Angel Di Maria.
Real finish the year three points ahead of Barcelona -- who won the Club World Cup in Japan on Sunday -- at the top of La Liga.
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