BARCELONA, Spain (AP) – Roberto Soldado scored a hat trick - with two goals coming in the final minutes - to rally Valencia to a 4-3 comeback win over Racing Santander on Saturday, the opening day of the strike-delayed Spanish league.
Soldado stepped up to draw Valencia even in the 88th minute and two minutes later fired in the winner at Mestalla Stadium.
The Spanish striker opened the scoring for both teams, pushing in a rebound for his team in the first minute, and heading a corner into his own net in a failed clearance minutes later.
Racing then fought back to go ahead 3-1 on goals by Lautaro Acosta and Adrian Gonzalez before Adil Rami brought Valencia to within 3-2 with his header in the 57th.
''Soldado was excellent,'' said Racing's first-year coach Hector Cuper, who over a decade ago led Valencia to two Champions League finals.
''Valencia played a good game and controlled the final 20 minutes. We couldn't resist,'' the veteran Argentine manager said. ''Maybe we made some mistakes, but the win was the merit of Valencia.''
Racing looked set to fall apart after Soldado was in position to punch in goalkeeper Antonio ''Tono'' Rodriguez's early spill. Instead, a Racing full of youth players rallied after Soldado inadvertently leveled the score.
Acosta - recently arrived to Racing on loan from Sevilla - capped a counterattack by slotting under Valencia 'keeper Vicente Guaita as Valencia pushed forward, leaving its defense exposed.
Soldado, who led Valencia with 25 goals last campaign in all competitions, appeared determined to make up for his mistake, and do his best to earn the captain's armband he took from the departed Juanma Mata.
The former Getafe striker came close with a header and blast over the top before halftime.
Jeers were heard after Adrian spun around Valencia defender Ricardo Costa and shot by a helpless Guaita, but Rami quickly rose up above his marker to spark Valencia's sluggish attack.
''The second goal, the one that got them back into the game, was a psychological blow for us,'' Cuper said.
Soldado drew several good saves from Tono before substitute forward Jonas Goncalves hit the post in the 73rd.
Racing settled down in defense as the upset drew closer, but Jonas slipped a ball through to Soldado to rifle into the net, and moments later Jordi Alba raced to the endline before finding Soldado alone in the six-yard box to seal the win.
''Overall, we created many more scoring chances, but with very little they were very dangerous,'' said Valencia coach Unai Emery. ''Racing, with a lot of young players, caused us problems. This is a win, and a warning.''
Earlier, Imanol Agirretxe headed two goals to give 10-man Real Sociedad a 2-1 win at Sporting Gijon.
Agirretxe - starting for the injured Joseba Llorente - scored with a header in the 35th minute off a pass from defender Carlos Martinez, and added another in the 65th after Xabi Prieto knocked on a cross from Alberto de la Bella.
Sporting's Miguel de Las Cuevas scored with a penalty kick in the 68th after Martinez was ejected for pulling down Alberto Botia in the area. But Sociedad held its lead to give coach Philippe Montanier his debut win.
Sporting defender Alberto Lola was sent off for a second yellow in extra time.
Also, in its first first-division match in 35 years, Granada lost 1-0 to fellow promoted club Betis when striker Ruben Castro broke the deadlock in the 88th minute.
Real Madrid visits Zaragoza on Sunday, while three-time defending league champion Barcelona hosts Villarreal on Monday.
Also on Sunday, it's: Atletico Madrid vs. Osasuna; Athletic Bilbao vs. Rayo Vallecano; Getafe vs. Levante; Mallorca vs. Espanyol; and Sevilla vs. Malaga.
The first players' strike in 27 years delayed the start of the Spanish league by a week. The players' union and league struck a deal on Thursday that satisfied demands for the payment of ?50 million ($72 million) owed in back wages to over 200 players.
The games originally scheduled for the first round will be played from Jan. 20-22.