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May 11, 2014

Barca reach final game with La Liga title chance

La Liga is coming down to a grand finale, a last-day shootout Saturday at 6 p.m. Spanish time in the Camp Nou between Barca and Atletico Madrid, which the Blaugrana must win if they are to hold on to their title and make it five titles in six years.

Originally it was thought that Barca had to win on Sunday to keep that dream alive, but a 0-0 draw at Elche was enough as Atletico also only drew at home to Malaga.

- Report: Elche 0-0 Barcelona

A late goal for the red and whites would have decided the title, but Barca won't worry about that now as a home win next week will be enough; anything else and the "other" side from the capital will claim their first title in 18 years.

On a tense Sunday evening where all sides involved in title and relegation issues kicked off at the same time, there was the traditional sight across Spain of fans with radios at hand, as worried about what was happening elsewhere as in their own stadium.

However, the sight of Barca players not in the squad such as Jordi Alba and Carles Puyol desperately seeking news in the stands of a packed Martinez Valero stadium will not be repeated next week as an exciting duel will be decided by the two teams on the pitch.

After a three-horse race that has lasted for 37 match-days at the top, Real Madrid finally bowed out of the battle with a 2-0 defeat at Celta Vigo. Barca fans will be overjoyed with that news, but the players' motivation will be to beat a side that they have not managed to overcome on five occasions already this season, and also to gain revenge for a painful Champions League exit.

Atletico had their chances to finish it against Malaga as Barca struggled at Elche, but the fact is that the Spanish league has somehow evened itself out quality wise in the past year. The top teams have not been able to simply turn up and roll over small-to-medium sized sides as easily as they did in the past.

Barca knew it was going to be tough in Elche: The side from the Alicante region needed points at the bottom of the table and indeed the draw was eventually enough, thanks to other results, to secure safety.

With so much at stake it was a tight and tense game. Elche had not lost at home in nine matches and showed their organisation throughout. Barca controlled things as is their style, but struggled to create clear cut chances especially in the second half.

In the first period it was all Barca: Andres Iniesta hit the bar and Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi went close with a number of attempts, but Elche battled well and Barca needed a spark.

Afterward, Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino said his side lacked "depth" but played with their "heart," before turning his attentions to next week's game.

"I am not one to normally ask for this, but this will be such a special match that we are going to need the support of the people if that gives us that little bit extra to win," he said.

Minutes later over at the Vicente Calderon a dejected Diego Simeone, coach at Atletico, was discussing how his side has played "millions" of games already and talking up the "experience" of the Barca and Real Madrid sides they have to face in the two finals to come.

The Elche performance will give Barca's critics more ammunition that it is a side in decline, but they are a win away from another title -- Real Madrid would like to be in that position, although they do have a Champions League final and Atletico, of course, have both to look forward to.

It is a hugely exciting end to what has been one of the best seasons in Spain for years. Barca can still win La Liga. On a few occasions in the last several months, that did not look possible.

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