- Associated Press - Sunday, March 13, 2016

MADRID (AP) - Casemiro scored in the 89th-minute to earn Real Madrid a 2-1 win at Las Palmas in the Spanish league on Sunday, keeping his team on course for an automatic spot in next season’s Champions League.

Casemiro headed the winner from a corner just two minutes after Las Palmas equalized with striker Willian Jose to ignite the local fans in the Canary Islands. Sergio Ramos had put Madrid ahead with another header in the 24th, before being sent off in injury time.

Las Palmas played better most of the match and goalkeeper Keylor Navas had to make several key saves to keep Madrid in the game.

“If we want anything from what’s coming up we have got to play better, that’s for sure,” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “Like this, we’ll get nowhere.”

It was Madrid’s third league win in a row, leaving it 10 points in front of fourth-place Villarreal, which lost to Sevilla earlier Sunday.

Defending champion Barcelona routed Getafe 6-0 at the Camp Nou on Saturday to maintain an eight-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid, which kept pace by defeating Deportivo La Coruna 3-0 at the Vicente Calderon Stadium a few hours later.

Madrid is 12 points off the lead and virtually out of contention for the title with nine rounds left, but it needed the win on Sunday to stay ahead in the race to secure the final automatic spot for the Champions League. The fourth-place club has to play an extra qualifying round.

Madrid started well and moved ahead with Ramos’ firm header off a corner, but Las Palmas took over and created several chances until finally breaking through with Jose’s shot over Navas after a bad pass by Mateo Kovacic near the area. The hosts seemed satisfied with a draw, but defensive midfielder Casemiro was left unmarked near the far post to seal the victory.

Ramos was sent off after being shown a second yellow card just before the final whistle.

“We need to improve a lot,” Navas said. “To win titles we can’t play with this type of intensity.”

Las Palmas was trying to win its fourth game in a row. The loss leaves the Canary Islands team in 15th place, only four points above the relegation zone.

Earlier Sunday in Seville, Ukraine midfielder Yevhen Konoplyanka scored the decisive goal with a 65th-minute long-range shot as Sevilla beat Villarreal 4-2 to stay in the fight for a Champions League spot.

The team’s 13th straight home victory in the league helped it move within five points of Villarreal.

“We showed that we have character and that we will fight until the end for the fourth spot,” Sevilla defender Adil Rami said. “This club and these fans deserve to be in the Champions (League).”

Sevilla opened the scoring at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium with a goal by Vicente Iborra in the 23rd minute. French striker Cedric Bakambu put Villarreal ahead with goals in the 29th and 37th, but the hosts equalized with an own goal by defender Victor Ruiz in the 51st before Konoplyanka netted with a powerful right-foot shot from about 30 meters (30 yards).

Substitute midfielder Jose Antonio Reyes sealed the victory after a breakaway in injury time.

Sevilla played with 10 men from the 79th after midfielder Ever Banega was sent off for a foul that earned him a second yellow card.

Sevilla has won every match at home since a 2-1 loss to Celta Vigo in the league’s third round. Barcelona and Real Madrid are among the teams it defeated at the Sanchez-Pizjuan.

It was the second straight loss for Villarreal, which has only one victory in its last five league games.

Villarreal and Sevilla are in the round of 16 of the Europa League. Sevilla will play the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona on May 22.

Also Sunday, striker Giuseppe Rossi scored a 65th-minute winner to give last-place Levante a 1-0 win over Valencia in the city derby.

Gary Neville’s team has lost three of its last four league games and dropped to 12th in the standings.

“I accept responsibility for the defeat,” an upset Neville said. “It was an indefensible performance, not acceptable, not good enough. I apologize to the fans of Valencia. I can’t defend what I’ve just seen. And I need to take full responsibility for that.”

Sixth-place Athletic Bilbao defeated Real Betis 3-1 at home to win its fourth league game in a row and remain one point behind Sevilla.


Tales Azzoni on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tazzoni

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