Soldado late show fires Valencia to victory
Madrid: A dramatic late double strike saw Roberto Soldado complete a hat-trick as Valencia beat Racing Santander 4-3 having appeared to be heading for defeat as the new La Liga season finally got underway on Saturday.
The season was supposed to start a week ago but a strike of a different kind - as players downed tools over wages - meant it was delayed for the first time in 27 years.
Hosts Valencia are aiming to consolidate after their third place finish last season despite losing a key player in Juan Mata to Chelsea but they lacked shape and rhythm in their first league game of the season.
It started well with Soldado sliding the ball home after keeper Antonio Rodriguez spilled a Pablo Hernandez shot after just one minute on the pitch but he went on to head into his own goal six minutes later before the lively Lautaro Acosta gave Racing the lead after 14 minutes.
The game appeared to be going away from Valencia as Adrian Gonzalez took advantage of a poor defensive clearance to add to Racing`s lead on 56 minutes but then defender Adil Rami reduced the deficit (58).
The stage was set for Soldado who turned the game on its head with two quickfire clinical finishes after 88 and 90 minutes.
Earlier a double from Imanol Agirretxe gave ten-man Real Sociedad a 2-1 victory over Sporting Gijon.
Sporting had the second worst scoring record in the last campaign with just 35 goals and while they had the greater possession early on they created little danger and it was the visitors who went ahead from a well-worked move.
After a neat exchange in midfield the ball was played to Carlos Martinez who crossed for Agirretxe to head home after 34 minutes.
The 24-year-old striker headed in his second mid-way through the second half but a penalty conceded by Martinez, for which he was red-carded, gave Miguel De las Cuevas the chance to pull it back to 2-1 after 68 minutes.
Real clung on, however, as Sporting defender Alberto Lora was also dismissed for a second yellow card in the last minute.
Granada host fellow newcomers Real Betis in Saturday`s late match.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, are at Zaragoza on Sunday with coach Jose Mourinho desperate to bring the league title back to the Bernabeu.
"The team is in better form at the moment than it was this time last year," said the Portuguese. "The first game of the season is always difficult and there are often a lot of surprises.”
"This would be a tough match at home or away due to the quality of the opposition. (Zaragoza trainer) Javier Aguirre is one of my favourite coaches as much as a person as a tactician."
Champions Barcelona, who travel to Villarreal for Monday`s only fixture, have started the new season where they left off and have already lifted their first two trophies with the domestic Super Cup followed by the European equivalent against Porto on Friday night.