VILLARREAL, SPAIN - JANUARY 08: Marcos Senna of Villarreal looks on during the La Liga match between Villarreal and Valencia at Estadio El Madrigal on January 8, 2012 in Villarreal, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

La Liga, Week 38: Judgement Day

Real Madrid might set the all-time Liga points record (100...that's just unfair) on Sunday, and that's not the thing I'm most excited about. Judgement Day, here we come!

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Eulogizing The Villarreal Of My Youth, Relegated In 2012

As I pause to remember the VIllarreal sides of my youth--the brilliant 2005-2006 side that dominated the Champions League with an artistic flair--it's important not to forget that Segunda División isn't death, or hell. It's purgatory. And this team will be back.

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La Liga 2012, Week 38: In Shock Twist, Villarreal, Sporting Fall To Segunda

Oh, how the once-mighty have fallen. The old Villarreal, of UEFA Champions League Semifinal fame--long since divided and sent to different parts of the world--will have to spend the next season fighting to get back to Primera, as they lost to Atletico Madrid 0-1 while watching Rayo Vallecano score in the last second to inch ahead of them in the standings. Villarreal, world-beloved for their flowing, exciting style, will not be in Primera to awe us with their yellow shirts and brilliant goals; and the beneficiaries of their collapse, Rayo Vallecano and Real Zaragoza, live to fight another day. Sporting Gijón, who had been fighting a losing battle against relegation--and needed a miracle--could not salvage themselves, and also fell to Segunda.

The day began well for Villarreal: they were sitting two teams above the drop zone, and would only descend with a very particular confluence of circumstances--Rayo and Zaragoza would both have to win, and they would have to lose. Unfortunately, this nightmarish scenario played out before their eyes.

First, Zaragoza grabbed a lead on Getafe after a penalty/red card combo saw the azulón squad reduced in number. But it was OK: Rayo was sputtering in what appeared to be a 0-0 draw with Granada (another side on the bubble). It looked like the Vallecanos were going to suffer the ultimate fate.

But then, like a terrible lightning bolt from the soccer gods, Radamel Falcao scored for Atlético, and, minutes later, Raúl Tamudo (architect of one of the other greatest moments in Liga history), scored for Rayo Vallecano. Suddenly, Villarreal's nightmare was very real.

On further review, it looked like Tamudo's goal, in stoppage time, may have been offsides. But that will be of little consolation to what I am sure is a desolate Villarreal fan base. They are a team I believed in all year, and they are a team I will continue to believe in next year when they fight to get back to their rightful position in Primera--this is not the last that we have seen of the Yellow Submarine.

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La Liga 2012, Week 38: Levante, Atletico Madrid Qualify For Europa League

Judgement Day doesn't fall as hard on the top half of the table: teams are playing, in general, for what amounts to frosting on the cake of their already-phenomenal season. At least, that's what they like to tell themselves as they play arguably the most important matches of their seasons. At the end of what feels like an absolute million-mile marathon of a season, the 1/10000 shot Levante has managed to qualify for the Europa League, making them one of the least likely sides to ever qualify for European Competition from Spain (hello, EuroGeta). In other action, Málaga solidified their Champions League participation, beating Sporting easily--a great result for a good, exciting team.

Joining them in the Europa League will be defending champions Atlético Madrid, who defeated now-descended (more on that later) Villarreal 0-1 at El Madrigal. Atleti will now be able to defend their crown after successfully capturing fifth place in Spain; a goal from Columbian striker Radamel Falcao (who else?) sealed Atleti's fate in Spain.

But the real story of the afternoon is Levante, who dominated the universally-beloved Athletic Bilbao, winning 3-0 in the Ciutat de Valencia on the back of two goals from Ghezzal. The first goal was a brilliant effort, easily lifted over Athletic keeper Iraizoz, after a long ball through the middle. Levante dominated from the starting gun, easily overcoming an Athletic sides who has seen their epic season crumble before their eyes.

And with that, the plucky side that I thought was a fluke all year eliminated the brilliant Bielsa-coached side that beat Manchester United. What a world.

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