Mon, Oct 24, 2011 - Page 18 News List

Messi’s penalty mishap hands Real first place

AFP, MADRID

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi hangs his head during their match against Sevilla at Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain, on Saturday.

Photo: Reuters

Lionel Messi missed an injury-time penalty as Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw by nine-man Sevilla on Saturday, a result which saw the champions surrender top spot to Real Madrid, who beat Malaga 4-0.

A Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick in the space of 15 first-half minutes had helped Real to victory leaving Jose Mourinho’s men with a one-point lead over the Spanish and European champions.

Barcelona have now kept a record six clean sheets in all competitions, but despite dominating the match at Camp Nou, they were thwarted by a dogged Sevilla defense and goalkeeper Javi Varas, who pulled off a series of outstanding saves.

The game boiled over in the final minutes as Andres Iniesta was upended in the area and a penalty was awarded. Substitute Frederic Kanoute was red-carded for attacking Cesc Fabregas before the spot-kick was taken by Messi and sensationally saved by Varas.

There was still time for Fernando Navarro to also be given his marching orders for a second yellow card.

“It’s never easy to play against a very defensive team, with nine players back, as there is no space,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. “You have to congratulate the Sevilla defense and the great game from Varas. I think we played well, but ‘keepers are part of the game and he had an excellent performance.”

Sevilla coach Marcelino Garcia said it is necessary for Varas to be on top of his game.

“The ‘keeper did very well, but we also played some good football and brought saves out of [Barca goalkeeper Victor] Valdes. In the second half they dominated and Varas was extraordinary,” he said.

Ronaldo hit a 15-minute hat-trick as Real Madrid swept aside Malaga in a first-half blitz to put them top with 19 points.

It was a battle between the newly-rich Malaga, who invested heavily in the summer as they aim for a place in Europe, and the old order, but it turned into a mismatch as Real cruised to victory.

Gonzalo Higuain, who has hit two hat-tricks in his past two games for Real, as well as another in between for Argentina, sent the visitors on their way after 10 minutes, before Ronaldo stole the show with three quickfire goals.

He side-footed home an Angel di Maria cross and then fired in from the edge of the area before completing his hat-trick with an acrobatic flick from close range.

Former Real striker Ruud van Nistelrooy was a surprise exclusion from the Malaga starting side, but he would have found it difficult to make a difference as Real ran riot and the Malaga strikers saw little of the ball. Joaquin Sanchez and Seba Fernandez both hit the woodwork for the home side, but they were unable to manage even a consolation.

Bottom side Sporting de Gijon finally gave themselves reason to cheer with a 2-0 win over Granada, although they remain a point adrift.

Sporting had picked up just one point from seven games going into their clash with Granada, who are another early favorite for the drop, but they set off at a lightning pace.

David Barral pounced in the box to put Sporting ahead with five minutes gone and while Alexandre Geijo saw a shot come back off the post for Granada, the home side wrapped up the win before halftime through Andre Castro.

A Sergio Garcia strike mid-way through the second half gave RCD Espanyol a 1-0 win away to Real Racing Club de Santander that takes them up to eighth, while Racing are still looking for their first win.

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