Sevilla rises to top of La Liga with comeback at Betis
ABS-CBN Sports on Feb 26, 2017 10:13 AM
FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2017 file photo, Sevilla's players celebrate after winning their La Liga soccer match against Real Madrid at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, in Seville, Spain. Sevilla's much-improved defense could be key in its attempt to finally succeed in the Champions League with the Spanish club to take an important step toward establishing itself as a top contender in European football. Sevilla hosts Leicester in the first leg of the Round of 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday, Feb. 22. (AP Photo/Angel Fernandez, File)
JOSEPH WILSON, Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — His team trailing against its fiercest rival, coach Jorge Sampaoli orchestrated a 2-1 comeback at Real Betis that lifted Sevilla to the top of the Spanish league on Saturday.
Sampaoli's two halftime substitutions sparked the turnaround in Spain's most heated city derby.
Substitute Vicente Iborra got the winning goal in the 75th minute to silence the Benito Villamarin Stadium following Gabriel Mercado's equalizer.
"Vicente contributed immediately and had a lot to do with the transformation of the team," Sampaoli said.
Betis dominated the first half and took the lead on a free kick by Riza Durmisi in the 36th which slipped through the defensive barrier.
But Sampaoli's decisions during the break to replace Franco Vazquez with Iborra and an ineffective Pablo Sarabia with Wissam Ben Yedder completely swung the match to the visitors' favor.
"The first half didn't reflect who we are as a team," Iborra said. "Nobody believed in us at halftime, but we did what we needed to. We changed everything. The first half was theirs, but the second half was ours from start to finish, and reflects what we are doing this season."
The second half was exactly that, a showing of a physical, disciplined and confident team that has won the right to be called a title contender during Sampaoli's first season in charge.
The win in the Seville derby, which came three days after Sevilla beat Leicester 2-1 in the Champions League, pulled it level on points with Liga leader Real Madrid. Madrid plays at Villarreal on Sunday, and has a game in hand at Celta Vigo.
Both goals came on free kicks perfectly executed by Sevilla, and poorly defended by Betis.
Mercado equalized in the 57th by finishing off a save made by goalkeeper Antonio Adan of Adil Rami's point-blank header. Adan had been left to fend for himself when Betis' players failed to pull an offside trap on a free kick.
Iborra completed the comeback on another set-piece when Steven Nzoni headed on a free kick for Iborra to toe past Adan, who again got no help from his defenders.
"Their goals were too easy. That's unacceptable, especially against our greatest rival," Betis midfielder Dani Ceballos said. "In the first half our attitude was impeccable, but in the second half we got scared and withdrew into our area. This is a painful loss."
LEGANES 4, DEPORTIVO LA CORUNA 0
Deportivo coach Gaizka Garitano said he will offer his resignation following the rout.
"I have the strength to continue, but I would understand if the club lets me go," he said.
Leganes overtook Deportivo in the standings, pushing the Galician side to the edge of the relegation zone after its biggest win since joining the topflight for the first time last summer.
The small Madrid-based club scored two early, then two more after Deportivo's Raul Albentosa earned a direct red for elbowing Miguel Guerrero in the neck.
"You dream of nights like this in the first division," said goal-scorer Alexander Szymanowski.
Leganes' first win in 12 rounds came a week after its gutsy performance at Barcelona ended in a loss.
EIBAR 3, MALAGA 0
Eibar maintained its excellent home record, its eighth in 13 matches this season at Ipurua Stadium.
Sergi Enrich recorded his 10th league goal of the campaign to round off the win that pushed the modest Basque club into seventh place.
ALAVES 2, VALENCIA 1
Alaves continued to impress with a second consecutive win for three victories in four matches, after mounting a fightback against Valencia at home.
Substitute Aleksandar Katai got the winner in the 86th one minute after going on.
Valencia, which failed to build on its midweek victory over Madrid, finished with 10 men after Fabian Orellana got his second yellow card.