LFP: Barcelona capture 21st La Liga title

TOP OF THE HEAP::Lionel Messi conjured up one of his famous drives toward goal, twisting and turning his way past Levante’s defenders, just to hit the post

Reuters, MADRID

Fri, May 13, 2011 - Page 20

Barcelona drew 1-1 against Levante on Wednesday to seal their third consecutive La Liga title and the 21st in the club’s history.

Barca have 92 points with two matches left, six ahead of second-placed Real Madrid, who beat Getafe 4-0 on Tuesday, and Barca manager Josep “Pep” Guardiola’s team hold the advantage in games between the two sides.

Seydou Keita headed the visitors in front after 28 minutes, but a terrible mix-up between defender Gerard Pique and ’keeper Victor Valdes led to Felipe Caicedo equalizing just before halftime.

A far from comfortable Barca held on for a point and can now focus on the Champions League final against Manchester United at Wembley on May 28.

“This isn’t about today, it is about nine months of hard work, emotions and suffering. We deserved it today,” striker David Villa told Spanish radio as he basked in his first league triumph.

Winning the title at the Ciutat de Valencia was particularly significant as it was where former coach Frank Rijkaard landed his first crown with Barca in 2005.

A 1-1 draw at Levante ended six trophyless years for the club that season and set in motion a cycle of success that Guardiola built on when he replaced the Dutchman in 2008.

Barca have now won five of the past seven Spanish championships.

The 40-year-old Guardiola, in his first top-flight coaching role, has picked up nine trophies in three years, including three league titles, one European Cup and one King’s Cup.

Barca dominated a cagey opening quarter until Xavi saw Keita’s run from deep and flighted a long pass into his path. The Malian midfielder brushed off two defenders to power a header into the net.

Guardiola was not happy with his side and could be seen gesticulating on the touchline. He held his head in his hands when the defense gifted Levante the equalizer.

Pique tried to shield a ball back to Valdes under pressure from Caicedo and misjudged an attempted clearance as the Levante striker surged past him to score into the empty net.

After the restart, Lionel Messi conjured one of his seemingly impossible runs as he twisted and turned through a crowd of Levante defenders, but with only the ’keeper to beat, his shot hit the post.

As the minutes ticked down, Barca’s substitutes lined up arm in arm on the touchline while their colleagues kept possession, and when the referee blew for time, they all raced on to the pitch to celebrate in a huddle.