MADRID (AFP) - Two goals in three minutes from Joaquin Sanchez gave Valencia a vital 2-0 win over Recreativo Huelva and moved the 2002 and 2004 Spanish champions up to fourth place in La Liga on Saturday.
Joaquin got his first right on the hour from the right-hand edge of the six yard box after a defence-splitting cross by David Villa.
The second from the right winger, one of the quickest men in the Spanish first division, was a wonderful chip from just inside the penalty box after a pass from David Silva.
Valencia also nearly got a third when Miguel Angel Angulo hit the post 15 minutes from time.
Joaquin's form in recent games could herald a recall to the national side, for whom he has won 42 caps but not played since August 2006, ahead of Spain's Euro 2008 qualifiers against Latvia and Liechtenstein in June.
Spanish national coach Luis Aragones conceded this week that "the moment has come when he (Joaquin) could return but sometimes he needs a psychologist".
Valencia now have 56 points from 32 games and keep up the pressure on Spain's top trio, who are contesting the tightest three-way title race for five years and who all play on Sunday.
Atletico Madrid and Real Betis battled each other to a standstill with a 0-0 draw earlier on Saturday, a result which did little to help either side.
Betis remain embroiled in the fight to avoid going down and although they are three places and five points above the relegation zone, all the rest of the Spanish first division strugglers have a game in hand.
By contrast, Atletico stay in sixth place but are still hoping to return to Europe next season after an eight-year absence.
The best chance to break the deadlock came five minutes from time when Atletico's Bulgarian international striker Martin Petrov had a right foot shot which just skimmed the crossbar.
Petrov came on to the field as a second-half substitute, to a massive ovation from the Atletico fans, after 56 minutes to play in his first game in more than six months after recovering from a serious knee injury.
League leaders and reigning champions Barcelona have 59 points but are just one point ahead of second-placed Sevilla with Real Madrid just another point further back in third.
Barcelona have an unbeaten record at home in the La Liga this season but still can't afford to drop even a point against relegation-threatened Levante in the wake of their 2-0 loss at Villarreal last Sunday.
"The team is under an obligation to react (to the Villarreal loss). There is no alternative," added Barca coach Frank Rijkaard on Saturday.
Sevilla, who are still in the Spanish Cup and UEFA Cup, have ambitions to notch up a unique treble and play host to fellow UEFA Cup semi-finalists Espanyol in what could be a rehearsal for the final in Glasgow on May 16.
Espanyol, are expected to rest several of their players after their 3-0 win over Werder Bremen on Thursday and will also face Sevilla without two of their main strikers, Luis Garcia and Walter Pandiani, who are both suspended.
Real Madrid have a potentially tricky trip to struggling Athletic Bilbao.
The Basques are still only two points clear of the bottom three but are fighting hard in recent weeks to preserve their historic status of never having been relegated from the Spanish first division.
"Madrid are not at their best but each day we are improving," said Real coach Fabio Capello at a press conference on Saturday.
"But playing Athletic in their San Mames stadium is always difficult. What worries me is that Athletic seem to have the habit of bouncing back after a bad game," added the Italian coach well aware that the Basques went down 4-1 to Real's championships rivals Sevilla last week.
David Beckham made a big contribution in his first game for six weeks when he came on as a substitute last week and the former England captain, sporting yet another new haircut, could start in place of Gonzalo Higuain.
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