Atletico Madrid stays on title course with 2-0 win over Elche
MADRID (AP) - Atletico Madrid stayed on course for its first Spanish league title in 18 years with a 2-0 win over Elche on Friday, and now turns its attention to hosting Chelsea in the Champions League semifinals.
Defender Miranda scored the opening goal at Vicente Calderon Stadium in the 72nd minute when he floated his header just inside the upright before Diego Costa added a penalty he had earned in stoppage time for his 27th league goal of the season.
Atletico needed goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to make successive saves around the half-hour mark, and didn't lose its composure after David Villa had a penalty saved in the 51st.
Atletico provisionally extended its lead over Real Madrid to six points, with Barcelona another point behind.
Madrid won't play Valladolid until May 7 as it rests after winning the Copa del Rey title and prepares to host Bayern Munich on Wednesday in the other Champions League semifinal.
Barcelona hosts Athletic Bilbao on Sunday needing to rebound from losing in the Copa del Rey final and keep alive its dwindling hopes of defending its league title.
Regardless of the two powerhouses' results, Atletico can break their combined nine-year hold on the league crown by winning three of its final four matches.
''We played well and just have to keep going forward like this,'' said Miranda, the latest role player to step up at big moments and score key goals for Atletico.
''We have four finals left. Now we need to rest and think about our next game against Chelsea.''
Diego Costa showed no signs of the deep cut in his left shin he received last week when he slammed into the goal post while scoring at Getafe, with the Brazilian striker causing Elche's defense trouble from the start.
He earned a penalty when fouled from behind by Ionut Sapunaru, who was sent off with his second yellow card, giving Diego Costa the chance to pull within one goal of Cristiano Ronaldo's league-leading tally of 28 goals for Madrid this campaign.
Courtois did his part by making saves to deny Javi Marquez and Sapunaru, again proving his major contribution to Atletico's championship bid.
Coach Diego Simeone sent on midfielders Raul Garcia and Jose Sosa earlier in the second half, and both set up scoring opportunities.
Raul was fouled to produce a penalty, only for Villa to have his spot kick smothered by goalie Manuel Herrera before he was replaced by Sosa.
Sosa picked out Miranda at the far post for him to lift his corner kick into the side of the net and set Atletico on its way to its eighth straight victory in the league.
Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.