ELCHE, Spain (Reuters) – Matheus Cunha and Rodrigo de Paul scored with close-range strikes to earn Atletico Madrid a 2-0 win at Elche on Wednesday, securing Diego Simeone’s side a top-four LaLiga finish and Champions League qualification for the 10th straight season.
With two games left and Real Madrid already crowned champions, Atletico climbed to third place on 67 points, six ahead of Real Betis in fifth and with a better head-to-head record.
They also leapfrogged Sevilla, who dropped to fourth on 66 points after they were held to a goalless draw at home by relegation-threatened Mallorca earlier on Wednesday.
Cunha opened the scoring in the 29th minute with a first-time strike following a fine individual effort by substitute Renan Lodi on the left wing.
Atletico had multiple chances to extend their lead before Antoine Griezmann played a brilliant one-two with De Paul, who found himself alone inside the box to tap home into an empty net in the 62nd minute.
It was a satisfying victory for coach Simeone who had faced heavy criticism from local media after being knocked out in the Champions League quarter-finals by Manchester City and following a run of just two wins in their previous seven games in all competitions.
The 52-year-old Argentine was celebrating his 400th Spanish league match in charge of Atletico after joining the club in December, 2011.
In the last decade he has elevated Atletico to European soccer’s elite, reaching two Champions League finals and winning eight trophies: two league titles, one Copa del Rey, two Europa Leagues, two European Super Cups and one Spanish Super Cup.
“I’m thankful to all the players that I managed in this club all these years, they are the reason we have been so successful,” Simeone told Movistar Plus.
“We are a high-level club with big expectations, and we are always aiming high, so qualifying to the Champions League was an obligation that we are happy that we accomplished.”
With Real, Barcelona and Atletico all assured of a top-four finish, the pressure is now on Sevilla, who have fallen apart in recent weeks.
Julen Lopetegui’s side were held to a third consecutive draw and have won only two of their last 10 games in all competitions.
The manager and his players were booed by the home crowd after a disappointing stalemate against third-from-bottom Mallorca, a result that kept local rivals Real Betis in with a slim chance of a top-four finish.
The Copa del Rey winners will qualify for the Champions League if they win their last two games against Granada and Real Madrid and Sevilla lose at Atletico and against Athletic Bilbao, who are still fighting for seventh place and a spot in the Europa Conference League.
(Reporting by Fernando KallasEditing by Toby Davis)