Sunday, February 20, 2011

Barcelona beats Bilbao 2-1 in Spain

BARCELONA, Spain (AP): Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Sunday to move five points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table in Spain.
David Villa gave Barcelona the lead in the fourth minute after Dani Alves tapped back a long pass from Xavi Hernandez for the Spain striker to volley home.
Bilbao's Andoni Iraola equalized in the 50th from the penalty spot after Sergio Busquets had fouled Fernando Llorente in the area.
Xavi and Alves linked up again for the Brazil right back to assist Lionel Messi inside the six-yard box for Barcelona's 78th-minute winner.
With the victory, the defending champions laid to rest any doubts about their form after having drawn with Sporting Gijon and lost to Arsenal in the Champions League this past week.
Bilbao had earned a 0-0 draw in its last visit to Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey in January by playing without forwards and putting everyone behind the ball.
Bilbao manager Joaquin Caparros repeated the same strategy in the first half, with the exception of striker Fernando Llorente alone up front.
With Carles Puyol still recovering from a leg injury, Busquets played alongside Gerard Pique in the middle of Barcelona's defense, while Jose Pinto replaced Victor Valdes in goal as he rested a sore knee.
Both sides were true to their styles early with Barcelona controlling the ball and Bilbao playing deep and looking for the counterattack.
Villa put the hosts ahead early with his 16th goal of the season, but Bilbao held firm and Llorente sent a dangerous cross that Markel Susaeta shot into the side netting in the 11th.
Barcelona continued to dominate possession with Villa hitting the crossbar with a chip shot in the 26th. Even so, Bilbao remained dangerous and Llorente drew a save from Pinto with a header in the 37th.
Caparros sent on forward Gaizka Toquero after the break and ordered his team to press up the pitch.
The tactic soon paid off when a bad pass from Eric Abidal led to Llorente winning the spot kick that leveled the score.
Villa came close to regaining the lead in the 70th, but Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz touched his shot just enough to send it wide.
Messi, much more active after halftime, beat his mark in close to score his league-best 25th goal_ one more than Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo. The Argentina star has 41 goals in all competitions.
Earlier, Villarreal was held to a 1-1 draw by last-place Malaga, Javad Nekounam scored twice in Osasuna's 4-0 win over Espanyol on coach Jose Luis Mendilibar's debut, and Ivan Rakitic gave Sevilla a 1-0 win over Hercules.
Marco Ruben put Villarreal ahead in the 36th minute, but Malaga's Sebastian Fernandez finished off a counterattack led by Jose Rondon to split the points in the 82nd.
"We were playing well, looking for the second goal, but we didn't get it and they waited for their chance and took it," Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido said.
With the draw, Villarreal remained in fourth place, two points behind provincial rival Valencia.
Nekounam gave Osasuna the lead in the 14th minute, heading in a corner delivered by fellow Iran international Masoud Soleimani, and added the second from the penalty spot in the 55th after Espanyol's Aldo Duscher had handled in the area.
Manuel "Lolo" Ortiz made it 3-0 in the 80th, and Fernando Soriano capped the victory in the 88th.
"You dream to win in your debut," Mendilibar said. "But the important thing is the motivation of the players who believe in what they are doing."
Osasuna moved out of the drop zone with the win, while sixth-place Espanyol has lost its last four games.
At Sanchez Pizjuan stadium, Rakitic scored his first goal since joining Sevilla in January when he converted a pass from Alvaro Negredo in the 21st.
Sevilla's first win in four weeks lifted it within three points of the Europa League positions.
Deportivo La Coruna goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia scored in injury time to give his team a 1-1 draw at Almeria, and Racing Santander beat Getafe 1-0.
Almeria looked set to convert Pablo Piatti's 49th-minute opener into three points, but Aranzubia headed home a corner right on the final whistle in the 95th to record the first goal scored by a goalkeeper with a header in the history of the Spanish league.
"I did what I see my teammates do," Aranzubia said. "I had come forward other times, but never scored a goal. I am thrilled."
In Madrid, Pablo Pinillos scored the 88th-minute winner for Racing Santander from the penalty spot after Getafe defender Ivan Marcano was sent off for pulling down Giovani Dos Santos with only the keeper to beat.
Mallorca is at Real Sociedad on Monday.

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