BARCELONA, Spain (AP)Where soccer greats Lionel Messi and Johan Cruyff had succeeded, the talented but mortal midfielders of Rayo Vallecano came up short on Saturday.
The modest Madrid-based club was held to a 2-2 draw at home by Girona in the Spanish league after failing with back-to-back penalties – including a botched trick penalty kick – in a sequence that will go down as one of the oddest in recent memory for Spanish soccer.
Isi Palazón and Óscar Trejo had already scored to put their team ahead 2-1 when Rayo had a penalty call in its favor just before halftime.
Goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga saved Trejo’s spot kick, but he got another chance after the referee ordered the penalty to be retaken because a Girona player had illegally encroached the area.
On the second try, Trejo, instead of shooting directly at the goal, rolled the ball to the side for Isi, who had rushed into the box – only for Isi to fire it over the crossbar.
Perhaps they had been inspired by Messi and Luis Suárez, who had pulled off such a nifty trick penalty in a 6-1 win over Celta Vigo in 2016. But even though Isi and Trejo have helped eighth-place Rayo surpass expectations this season, they were unable to match the feat by the Barcelona greats.
The audacious tweak on the standard penalty, which turned a solitary play into a team move, became famous after Cruyff executed it while playing for Ajax in 1982.
The failed penalty marred what had been until then superb performances by Isi and Trejo. Isi had curled in the opener from outside the area in the 23rd minute, and Trejo had cut back to score from a tight angle in the 34th.
But Ukraine forward Viktor Tsygankov, who joined Girona from Dynamo Kyiv in January, scored his second goal of the game in the 52nd to split the points.
Rayo has only converted three of seven penalties this season.
“I am worried about our penalties because they have cost us several points,” Rayo coach Andoni Iraola said.
He said his players had improvised with the penalty trick.
“It was a decision of Trejo and Isi,” Iraola said. “I haven’t spoken to them. These things you have to think about, and then talk about it with a cool head. The only thing I can say is that we did not practice that.”
Atletico Madrid increased its unbeaten streak to 10 games in the league after rolling to a 3-0 victory over a hapless Valencia.
Antoine Griezmann, Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Lemar all scored for Diego Simeone’s side, which has not lost in the league since falling to Barcelona in early January.
Atletico strengthened its hold on third place, closing to within five points of second-place Real Madrid before it visits leader Barcelona on Sunday.
Valencia is on the edge of the relegation zone after losing seven road games in a row.
The current and future stars of Celta Vigo both scored in a 3-1 win at Espanyol that featured a stellar showing by Carles Pérez, who set up two goals before scoring late.
Pérez first set up 20-year-old Gabri Veiga for his ninth league goal of the season.
He next earned a penalty that Iago Aspas converted for his 12th goal of the campaign, a day after the 35-year-old Aspas was recalled by new Spain coach Luis de la Fuente. Only Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski with 15 goals has scored more in the league.
Gonzalo Melero’s stoppage-time penalty grabbed relegation-threatened Almeria a 1-1 draw with Cadiz.
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