Tue, May 14, 2013 - Page 18 News List

LA LIGA: Barca rally seals title celebrations

AFP, MADRID

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi kicks the ball against Atletico Madrid in their La Liga match at the Estadio Vicente Calderon in Madrid, Spain, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Barcelona marked their crowning as La Liga champions with a come-from-behind 2-1 win at third-placed Atletico Madrid on Sunday, despite finishing the game with 10 men.

Real Madrid’s 1-1 draw with RCD Espanyol on Saturday meant that the Catalans, who now have four titles in five years and 22 in all, could no longer be caught, but in keeping with a number of their recent performances, Barca started lethargically and were behind just after halftime when Radamel Falcao took advantage of slips by Gerard Pique and Alex Song to slot home his 28th league goal of the season.

Lionel Messi then had to leave the field as his injury problems continued after Barca had made all three substitutions.

However, they staged a late comeback when Alexis Sanchez prodded home from close range and then a bizarre own-goal from Gabi 11 minutes from time kept them on course to match Real’s 100 points tally from last season.

Cesc Fabregas hailed the effort of his side throughout the season as he sealed his first ever league title.

“It’s a dream come true. To return home and win the league is incredible,” Fabregas told reporters. “The season has been very difficult with the illnesses of the manager [Tito Vilanova] and [Eric] Abidal, but we have been very consistent and that is what has given us the title.”

The Catalans had been boosted by the return of Messi to the starting lineup for the first time in a league match since March, but the Argentine struggled for time and space on the ball as a typically aggressive Atletico side did not in any way reserve their energies for the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid on Friday.

Koke fired the hosts’ best effort of the half just over, while at the other end Cristian Tello bent a shot just wide of the far post in a first half of relatively few chances.

Atletico were soon in front after the break, though, as Gabi won a tussle with Pique on the ground and prodded the ball forward in the direction of Falcao, who was given all the time he needed to slot the ball beyond Jose Manuel Pinto into the far corner.

Tito Vilanova then introduced Sergio Busquets and David Villa in a bid to energize his troops, but that move backfired as having already withdrawn the injured Dani Alves, Barca were left with 10 men when Messi hobbled down the tunnel 20 minutes from time.

The visitors were level two minutes later, though, when Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas exchanged passes and the Chilean steered the ball inside Thibaut Courtois’ near post.

The winner arrived just six minutes later in bizarre fashion, as Tello sped down the left and his cut-back found Villa, whose shot deflected firstly off Diego Godin and then into Gabi’s midriff, before creeping in via the underside of the bar.

Diego Costa had one final effort for Atletico, but Pinto made a decent save to ensure Barca could celebrate their parade through the Catalan capital yesterday in style.

Elsewhere, Valencia moved into fourth place with a 4-0 hammering of Rayo Vallecano de Madrid thanks to two goals from Roberto Soldado, and second-half strikes from Andres Guardado and Nelson Valdez.

Valencia are now a point ahead of Real Sociedad, with the Basques taking on Granada yesterday.

RC Celta de Vigo suffered a blow in their bid to beat relegation, their 1-0 defeat at Real Betis Balompie seeing them remain second-from-bottom, while Sevilla drew 0-0 at Malaga to move into eighth.

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