Barcelona beat Bilbao in Spanish League

Monday, February 21, 2011

MADRID - Barcelona restored their five-point lead atop the Spanish Liga Sunday with a late 2-1 home defeat of fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao.

Barca needed a goal 12 minutes from time from FIFA World Player Lionel Messi to break the resistance of Bilbao, for whom Andoni Iraola had equalised after David Villa had given Barca an early lead.

Messi has overtaken Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the scorers’ chart with 25 goals to 24.

As humble as ever, Messi said: “The important thing is that we won and not the fact that I scored. They made things difficult for us from start to finish.”

Messi and company now have a record-breaking 65 points from 24 games, five more than second-placed Real, who beat lowly Levante 2-0 at home Saturday.

Barca can now enjoy a week’s rest without any midweek match or national team call-up, for the first time this season. They were desperate to win after Wednesday’s 2-1 Champions League defeat away to Arsenal - and after last Saturday’s 1-1 draw in Gijon.

It seemed like it would be yet another stroll in the park for Barca - as most of their matches have been this season - when Villa made it 1-0 after just four minutes by turning in a perfect centre from right-back Dani Alves.

Villa and Messi came close to increasing Barca’s lead several times in the first half. But five minutes into the second half Iraola made it 1-1 from the penalty spot, after Sergio Busquets had clumsily pulled down Bilbao’s star striker Fernando Llorente.

From then on, the hosts lay siege to the Bilbao goal. Barca were furious not to be given a clear penalty when Messi was brought down by Javi Martinez.

But the little Argentine would soon be celebrating his winning goal. Twelve minutes from time Xavi released the tireless Alves down the right and Messi turned in Alves’ near-post cross with his right foot.

Real are 12 points ahead of third-placed Valencia, who were held 0-0 Saturday by Sporting Gijon. In fourth place, two points behind Valencia, are Villarreal, who were held 1-1 by bottom team Malaga Sunday.

Villarreal are eight points ahead of Bilbao, who stay fifth. In sixth place, with a point fewer than Bilbao, are Espanyol, who crashed 4-0 at Osasuna Sunday.

It was a dream start on the Osasuna bench for Jose Luis Mendilibar, who took over from former Spain boss Jose Antonio Camacho last Monday.

Espanyol are three points ahead of seventh-placed Sevilla, who beat Hercules 1-0 on a goal from newboy Ivan Rakitic.

At the other end of the table are injury-plagued Malaga, who stay bottom on 20 points despite the draw in Villarreal.

On 21 points are Almeria, who ceded a late 1-1 draw at home to Deportivo Coruna. Five minutes into stoppage time Deportivo goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia desperately went upfield for a corner - and headed in a remarkable equaliser.

Aranzubia is the first keeper to score in La Liga since 2002.

Two points above Almeria, in 18th place, are Zaragoza, who crashed 1-0 at home to Atletico Madrid Saturday. Then come Levante and Sporting Gijon on 24.

Also Sunday, Racing Santander scored a late 1-0 win away to Getafe.

The 24th round of matches was due to finish Monday with a midtable clash between Real Sociedad and Mallorca.

Filed under: Soccer

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