Barcelona survived without Lionel Messi with late goals by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Bojan Krkic to grab a labored 2-0 win over Osasuna and go top of La Liga on Wednesday.
The champions moved on to 71 points from 28 games, three clear of title rivals Real Madrid, who were to visit neighbors Getafe yesterday.
Argentina forward Messi has stolen the limelight at Barca in recent games, scoring 11 in the last five matches, but had a relatively quiet match at the Nou Camp.
The visitors comfortably held an out-of-sorts Barca at bay until the 72nd minute when Maxwell crossed low for Swedish striker Ibrahimovic to break the stalemate with his second goal in as many games.
Substitute Krkic struck near the end after a trademark passing move from the hosts as Osasuna’s defense finally succumbed to the relentless pressure.
“We didn’t play our best game today, but we got the three points and that’s all that counts,” Ibrahimovic said in a television interview.
Barca barely had a sight of goal early on against a well-organized Osasuna and again missed the link up play of injured midfield organizer Xavi, who was watching from the stands.
Osasuna’s Krisztian Vadocz forced a brilliant reaction save from Victor Valdes in the clearest chance of the first half and Pep Guardiola brought on Pedro for Thierry Henry at the break.
Pedro, pushing for a place in Spain’s World Cup squad, had a hand in the build-up to both Barca’s goals. A swift counter-attack led to Ibrahimovic netting from close range, and as Osasuna tired, Messi curled a shot against the post before Krkic pounced to settle the home crowd’s nerves.
Valencia are a distant 18 points behind Barca in third place after beating Malaga 1-0 at home in the late game thanks to an early strike from David Villa.
Spain winger Juan Mata crossed for his international teammate to notch his 18th goal of the campaign, but there was little else to illuminate a tight encounter.
Valencia strengthened their hold on the last automatic Champions League qualification berth, moving six points clear of of fourth-placed Real Mallorca on to 53 points.
Mallorca drew 0-0 at Racing Santander and are two ahead of Sevilla, who were held 1-1 at home by basement side Xerez on Tuesday.
In other games, Almeria continued their steady climb up the standings with a 1-0 win over Real Zaragoza that put them 10th, Villarreal were held 2-2 in Tenerife and 10-man Real Valladolid drew 0-0 at home to Espanyol.
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
‘CRIMINAL ACT’: The UCI said it ‘strongly condemns’ Dylan Groenewegen’s ‘dangerous behavior,’ which left Jakobsen in critical condition and injured other cyclists Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was in a coma on Wednesday, in “serious” condition, after he was thrown into and over a barrier at 80kph in the conclusion to the opening stage of the Tour de Pologne. Footage showed 23-year-old Jakobsen, of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step, racing elbow-to-elbow with fellow Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen of Jumbo-Visma as both men frantically tussled in a tight sprint to the line in Katowice. However, Jakobsen came off worst, somersaulting over the barriers before colliding with a photographer after Groenewegen had veered suddenly to the right, squeezing his rival into the security wall. “His condition is very serious. His life is
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