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March 19, 2016

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Atletico Madrid stumbled in its pursuit of Barcelona for the Spanish league title after conceding two late goals to lose at relegation-threatened Sporting Gijon 2-1 on Saturday.

Atletico looked set to maintain its title challenge after Antoine Griezmann scored from a free kick in the first half.

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The visitors' defense resisted Sporting's attack until a late push produced a free kick that Antonio Sanabria blasted in with 11 minutes to play.

Sporting's Carlos Castro completed the turnaround with a goal in the 89th with Atletico playing with 10 men after defender Jose Gimenez went down injured after coach Diego Simeone had made all three substitutions.

Barcelona leads second-place Atletico by eight points before visiting fourth-place Villarreal on Sunday.

"We always kept clear the objective of this club, which is to finish in third place. The loss goes against any aspirations of finishing as champions," said Simeone, who insists Atletico overachieves by even competing with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Atletico remained four points above Real, which is third.

"We controlled the game until they equalized," Simeone said. "There is no need to look for excuses. The reality is there for anyone to see. We don't have anything else."

Atletico can also chase silverware in the Champions League, with Friday's draw pitting the club against a familiar rival — Barcelona — in the quarterfinals.

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Atletico conceded a league-low 12 goals in the previous 29 rounds this season, and only one of those in the last six matches. The game at El Molinon Stadium was following that exact script until Sporting's revival.

After Griezmann curled his free kick over the barrier and just inside the post, the 2014 champions were content to allow Sporting possession and lock down their defense, despite playing without leading defender Diego Godin due to a leg injury.

And the strategy that Simeone has perfected was working just fine until the last 12 minutes.

Sanabria hit the post, and moments later the striker finally beat goalkeeper Jan Oblak with a powerful free kick struck through the wall that Atletico midfielder Matias Kranevitter deflected, leaving Oblak out of position.

Shortly after, Gimenez pulled up clutching his leg during a sprint to keep up with Sanabria on a counterattack, leaving the latter clear to draw Oblak off his line and pass to Castro with the net open.

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Castro struck the ball off the bar to the disbelief of home fans but he made up for it in another attack down the left flank that left him needing only to tap home a pass from Jony Rodriguez.

"We have lost three very important points for the league," Atletico midfielder Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion said. "We know they (Barcelona) face Villarreal, but there is now one game less to go."

Elsewhere, Rayo Vallecano defender Ze Castro scored late to earn a 2-2 draw at Granada, which got two goals from Youssef El Arabi before having Isaac Success sent off with a second yellow card midway through the second half. The result left both teams on the edge of the drop zone.

Las Palmas striker Willian Jose also scored for a 1-0 victory at Real Sociedad that moved the Canary Island club away from danger.

Later Saturday, bottom side Levante visits Deportivo La Coruna while Malaga is at Real Betis.

Real Madrid hosts fifth-place Sevilla on Sunday, a round before Zinedine Zidane's side travels to Barcelona for the second "clasico" match of the season.

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