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Humiliated Real Madrid slump to 4th place finish
Updated: 2004-05-24 09:32

Real Madrid's humiliation was completed when they slumped to a record fifth consecutive league defeat with an astonishing 4-1 demolition by Real Sociedad in front of their shellshocked home fans, who whistled their supposed heroes from the pitch.

Real Madrid players from left, Roberto Carlos, of Brazil, Ivan Helguera and Francisco Pavon of Spain, react after opponent Real Sociedad scored a third goal at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Sunday, May 23, 2004, in the last game of the season, and Real Madrid's final bid to secure the runner-up position and a berth in the Champions League. [AP]

Striker Ronaldo of Real Madrid, left, from Brazil, scores from an offside position in the match against Real Sociedad at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Sunday, May 23, 2004, in the last game of the season. [AP]

The defeat, on the last day of the season, left Real's collection of multi-millionaire superstars in fourth place in the table and comdemned them to the qualifying rounds of the Champions League next season.

"The fans had every reason to whistle us," admitted Ronaldo, who ended the season as the Spanish first division's top scorer with 24 goals despite not scoring in the last eight games.

"We were a big disappointment. We can't go downhill like this (next season) if we want to win title."

Real's bitter rivals Barcelona finished second despite a 2-1 defeat at Real Zaragoza while Deportivo La Coruna moved up to third thanks to a 1-0 win at Racing Santander, with Uruguayan international Walter Pandiani scoring the only goal of the game.

Madrid, 29-times Spanish champions, were behind to Sociedad after just nine minutes when Darko Kovacevic headed home a Xabi Prieto pass.

Prieto then found the net himself after 28 minutes for the 21 year-old's first league goal, firing home from the edge of the area.

Javier De Paula put the Basque visitors three in front four minutes later, exposing Real's vulnerability to ariel attacks with another header.

Madrid's Luis Figo reduced the deficit from the penalty spot six minutes before the break, after Sociedad's French defender Lionel Potillon was judged harshly to have brought down Ronaldo.

However, Prieto's day was completed when he was handed the penalty duties after Agustin Aranzabal had been brought down on the hour.

"It has been tough to play in the Bernabeu all season. But it is not fair to be calling the players 'mercenaries'. Some players were affected and the atmosphere tonight wasn't much help," responded Real coach Carlos Queiroz to the hostile reaction.

However, the Real fans will almost certainly be getting what they were demanding at the end of the game, with Queiroz likely to be relieved of his duties in the next few days.

"It is an honour to coach Real Madrid and I have never had an hour's doubt," reflected Queiroz, indicating that a decision about his furture had as good as been made.

Benfica's Jose Antonio Camacho is the favourite to take over from Queiroz and return to the Bernabeu where he was a hugely successful player.

Real will now almost certainly have to cancel their scheduled tour of Asia, which was to have taken place in late July and early August because the loss confirmed the nine-times kings of Europe will have to play in next season's Champions League qualifying rounds for the first time.

Barcelona drew first blood at Zaragoza when Argentine strike Javier Saviola put Barca ahead after 10 minutes before Cani Garcia and Fernando Soriano handed Barca their second defeat in three games, after going unbeaten in their previous 17 outings.

The Catalan giants' neighbours Espanyol left it late to secure their salvation in the first division but the prolific Raul Tamudo found the net for the 19th time this season after 71 minutes, firing a Ivan De La Pena cross through the legs of Murcia goalkeeper Francisco Sanchez Broto.

Alberto Lopo to head Espanyol's second goal, which was a signal for the celebrations to start after Espanyol had spent much of the season in the relegation zone.

Espanyol's victory condemned Valladolid and Celta Vigo to relegation on Sunday.

Valladolid won 3-0 over Villarreal but their first win in 10 games was not enough to avoid the drop after 11 seasons in the Spanish first division, while Celta Vigo's sorry season, despite reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, culminated in a 2-1 defeat at home to Real Mallorca.

Spanish league table after Sunday's matches on the final day of the season (played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, points):

Valencia 38 23 8 7 71 27 77 champions

Barcelona 38 21 9 8 63 39 72

Deportivo La Coruna 38 21 8 9 60 34 71

Real Madrid 38 21 7 10 72 54 70

Athletic Bilbao 38 15 11 12 53 49 56

Sevilla 38 15 10 13 56 45 55

Atletico Madrid 38 15 10 13 51 53 55

Villarreal 38 15 9 14 47 49 54

Real Betis 38 13 13 12 46 43 52

Malaga 38 15 6 17 50 55 51

Real Mallorca 38 15 6 17 54 65 51

Real Zaragoza 38 13 9 16 46 55 48

Osasuna 38 11 15 12 38 37 48

Albacete 38 12 8 18 40 48 47

Real Sociedad 38 11 13 14 49 53 46

Espanyol 38 13 4 21 48 64 43

Racing Santander 38 11 10 17 48 63 42

Valladolid 38 10 11 17 46 56 41

Celta Vigo 38 9 12 17 48 68 39

Murcia 38 5 11 22 29 57 26

Racing Santander were deducted one point for fielding an ineligable player

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