Lionel Messi and Neymar both scored to help Barcelona come from behind twice to beat Villarreal 3-2 and stay in the hunt for the Spanish La Liga title on Sunday.
Messi and Neymar netted their 22nd and 15th league goals of the season respectively as Luis Enrique’s Barcelona never lost their nerve, and answered sixth-place Villarreal goal for goal to end the visitor’s club record run of 18 games without a loss.
“With those guys up front, it can’t get any better,” said midfielder Rafina, who took full advantage of a rare start to score Barcelona’s other goal.
Villarreal’s Denis Cheryshev struck on the half-hour mark to start the free-scoring match at Camp Nou.
Neymar made it 1-1 just before half-time, only for Luciano Vietto to finish off another Villarreal counterattack in the 51st minute.
However, Barcelona hit back, delivering a quick and decisive double blow.
Rafina pulled the hosts level for a second time in the 53rd minute, and two minutes later Messi fired home a long-range shot — his 32nd goal in 30 games in all competitions this season.
Villarreal did not fade and both sides provided a thrilling second half of back-and-forth action that bodes well for their Copa del Rey semi-final in two weeks.
Barcelona have won eight in a row and stayed one point behind leaders Real Madrid, who have a game in hand against Sevilla tomorrow.
“This shows this team is prepared for any adverse situation, as it did the other day [against Atletico Madrid] at the Estadio Vicente Calderon and now today against a great Villarreal side,” said Luis Enrique, whose team is back to its best — less than a month after his job was rumored to be at risk.
Barcelona dominated possession and the scoring chances early, with Messi’s incisive passing leading the way, but it was another frustrating night for Luis Suarez, who saw goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo save his volley before he fired wide when the ball fell to him near the penalty spot.
Villarreal had yet to threaten until they launched a counterattack that ended with Cheryshev deftly redirecting Mario Gaspar’s off-target strike toward the net where it slipped past Claudio Bravo.
Vietto forced Bravo to save his header as Villarreal again pressed on the break, but the match swung Barcelona’s way just before half-time when Neymar stabbed in the rebound following an effort by Rafina after Messi had set him up inside the box.
Former Barcelona player Giovani dos Santos briefly put Villarreal in front again when he pounced on Gerard Pique’s poor control and sprinted to the goal line, where he drew Bravo to him before laying off for Vietto to score.
However, Rafina quickly blasted Barcelona’s second equalizer into the top of the net after Andres Iniesta unlocked the defense and the ball eventually reached him in the area.
Villarreal then made the crucial mistake of giving Messi enough time to size up Asenjo and curl a strike into the top corner of the net for the winner.
Elsewhere, Sevilla striker Iago Aspas scored with one minute left to snatch a 3-2 win over 10-man RCD Espanyol, taking some measure of vengeance for their elimination from the Copa del Rey as they rose into a provisional fourth place.
Aritz Aduriz scored twice in the second half to give Athletic Bilbao a 2-0 victory at bottom side Levante UD and end its seven-round winless streak.
UD Almeria also edged Getafe 1-0 for their first win in 10 home games this season to move out of the relegation zone in a match both ended with 10 men.
The NBA said was re-evaluating its training program in China following allegations of abuse of young players by local staff and harassment of foreign staffers at a facility in Xinjiang. The comments come after a report by ESPN that quoted unnamed American coaches as saying that Chinese coaches hit young players. One American coach who worked at a camp in Xinjiang complained of harassment by local police, the sports network said. “The allegations in the ESPN article are disturbing,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said in an e-mail statement on Thursday. “We ended our involvement with the basketball academy in Xinjiang in June
Taiwan Steel on Sunday grabbed three points with a narrow 1-0 win against Hang Yuan FC, to move into the No. 2 spot on the Taiwan Football Premier League (TFPL) log, while Taipower FC beat NTUS 2-0 to maintain first place. Taking advantage early in the match of opposition defenders who had not yet settled down, Taiwan Steel’s attacking trio of Wu Chun-ching, Marc Fenelus from the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Benchy Astama from Haiti pushed forward with good passes. After only one minute of play, Fenelus dribbled from the right flank, feeding a short pass inside the penalty area to
LEAVING IT LATE: Rakuten added late runs last night to add to wins on Wednesday against the Brothers and the Lions on Friday that went down to the last batter The Rakuten Monkeys rallied to post three late runs for another close win, prevailing 5-3 over the Uni-President Lions yesterday as Taiwan’s second-half CPBL season got started with lower scoring output, but exciting finishes. It was Rakuten’s third win in a row. In two games this week, they seized victory in dramatic fashion with their last at-bat and have drawn level with the CTBC Brothers on top of the table after yesterday’s results, 0.5 games in front of the Fubon Guardians and 1.5 games ahead of the Lions. It was tied at 1-1 early, with Rakuten hosting the Lions at the Taoyuan Intenational
STAYING COOL: Hamilton said that his ‘heart nearly stopped’ when he noticed the puncture, but he kept going to beat Alain Prost’s total of six home wins in France Lewis Hamilton said he feared he might not make it home when a last lap puncture almost derailed his charge to a record seventh British Grand Prix victory on Sunday. “I didn’t think I would make it round the last two corners,” the world champion said. The front left tire of his Mercedes had delaminated and deflated on his final lap, leaving the six-time world champion to nurse his vehicle to the finish as second-placed Max Verstappen hunted him down. “I just can’t believe it,” Hamilton said. “It was heart-stopping. I backed off and stayed chilled and was so glad it happened on