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Miranda and Costa fire Atletico to La Liga victory over Elche

updated 5:12 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Diego Costa celebrates after scoring in Atletico Madrid's victory over Elche.
Diego Costa celebrates after scoring in Atletico Madrid's victory over Elche.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Atletico Madrid move seven points clear at top of La Liga after victory over Elche
  • Goals from Joao Miranda and Diego Costa seal 2 - 0 win at Vincente Calderon
  • Atleti can now lift first title in 18 years with victory in next three La Liga matches

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(CNN) -- Atletico Madrid overcame struggling Elche at the Vicente Calderon on Friday and moved a step closer to the club's first La Liga title in 18 years.

Brazillian defender Joao Miranda rose at the far post to power home a header midway through the second half before Diego Costa scored an injury time penalty to seal a closely fought 2-0 victory.

Atletico now requires three wins from its remaining four fixtures to claim the La Liga title.

"It was a very open and dangerous match," Atletico manager, Diego Simeone, told reporters in his post match press conference.

"We could not find space in the first half and they took chances on the break to create danger. Our attitude changed in the second half, the intensity increased and from persistence came the prize."

While pleased with the result, the Argentine coach will hope for a more convincing performance in his side's next fixture against Chelsea in the semifinal of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Atleti struggled to break down their well-organized opponents all night and had to withstand a period of Elche pressure before Costa sealed victory in the 90th minute.

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A pedestrian first half produced few chances for either side with Atletico failing to register a single shot on target.

At the other end, Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had to be alert to make a smart save from Elche defender Cristian Sapunaru's header.

Atleti brought on midfielder Raul Garcia at the start of the second period to offer an aerial threat going forward and the tactic almost paid immediate dividends.

Garcia was brought down as he attacked a high-ball into the Elche box by the retreating Sapunaru.

Referee Carlos Clos Gomez pointed to the spot but David Villa couldn't convert as he fired weakly at Elche keeper Manu Herrera.

Ateltico didn't let the penalty miss effect them and kept pressing their opponents with a greater intensity than they had done in the first period.

The breakthrough came in the 71st minute as Miranda climbed highest at the back post, directing a header back across goal and beyond Herrera who stood rooted to the spot.

Elche, themselves seeking points as they attempt to move away from the relegation area, pressed forward in search of an equalizer but were caught on the break in injury time.

Diego Costa burst through and was nudged in the back as he was about to shoot by Sapunaru who gave away his second penalty of the game and was shown a straight red card for denying a goal scoring opportunity.

Costa stepped up to take the spot kick and sent the diving Herrera the wrong way.

Atletico now stand atop the La Liga table on 85 points, six ahead of second placed Real Madrid and seven clear of reigning champions Barcelona.

The Catalans can close the gap at the top of the table to four points with victory at home to fourth placed Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

They will have to do so without the services of Neymar, however, after the Brazilian striker was ruled out for at least four weeks with a metatarsal injury on Friday.

Barcelona have suffered a dreadful few weeks, exiting the Champions League at the quarter final stage for the first time in six seasons, losing ground in La Liga after defeat at Granada and falling to defeat at the hands Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey final on Wednesday.

Real Madrid do not play this weekend after taking the option to postpone their match against Real Vallodolid in order to prepare for Wednesday's Champions League semifinal first leg clash with Bayern Munich.

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