Barcelona: Barcelona earned a record 16th
straight win in the Spanish league by beating Atletico Madrid
3-0 with a Lionel Messi hat trick.
The historic win yesterday provisionally lifted Barcelona
10 points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table ahead
of its fierce rival`s match against Real Sociedad today.
Messi decided the contest with two goals before the
half-hour mark and added a third in the second half.
Barcelona`s streak surpassed the 15 wins by Alfredo Di
Stefano`s Real Madrid 50 years ago.
"It is an honor for this team to have surpassed a record
that had stood for so long," Messi said.
Pep Guardiola`s team has outscored its opponents 60-6
during the winning run that is the 10th longest in European
Atletico Madrid coach Quique Sanchez Flores left striker
Diego Forlan out of the starting 11 and reinforced his
midfield with former Barcelona youth academy product Fran
Merida. But the move did not pay off, as Barcelona controlled
the ball from the opening whistle.
Atletico resisted until Messi broke through for the
two-time defending champions in the 17th.
Messi cut back from the right flank across the edge of
the area, leaving behind three defenders before firing a
left-footer into the right corner of David De Gea`s goal.
Messi`s second goal was product of a great team buildup.
After Antonio Lopez touched it but could not clear, Pedro
Rodriguez linked up with David Villa, who slipped the ball
between two defenders for Messi to punch in.
"We would not be who we are without Messi on our team,"
said Guardiola. "To be a great team you need to have a
standout player. We have won 16 games because we have Messi."
With Forlan coming on after the restart, Atletico had a
good beginning to the second half and Barcelona center back
Gerard Pique saved a strike by Filipe Luis on the goal line in
De Gea swatted a Messi header over the crossbar in the
73rd, but six minutes later Messi pounced to tap in a ball
that De Gea blocked but could not hold.
Messi has 40 goals in 33 games in all competitions and
his 24 league goals put him two ahead of Real Madrid`s
Cristiano Ronaldo for Spain`s leading scorer. With 167 goals
for Barcelona in all competitions, Messi moved past Josep
Escola (164) into sole possession of fourth place on the club
career scoring list, trailing Cesar Rodriguez (235), Laszlo
Kubala (196) and Josep Samitier (178).
"Messi is the best player I have ever seen," said Sanchez
Flores. "He is the Di Stefano of the 21st century."
Messi said he wasn`t "worried about leading all scorers
in Spain. What concerns me is that the team continues to play
like this and maintains its distance over the rest of the
Barcelona set a club record of 28 games without a loss
earlier this season and stayed on pace to break a whole set of
other records, including season points total, victories in a
season, goals scored and fewest goals allowed.
Earlier, Levante handed Villarreal its first loss this
season at El Madrigal Stadium with a 1-0 win, and Athletic
Bilbao beat 10-man Sporting Gijon 3-0 to move into fifth place
ahead of Espanyol, which lost 3-2 at Almeria.
Villarreal had previously dropped only two points at
home, but Levante`s line of five defenders succeeded in
disrupting the "Yellow Submarine`s" normally potent attack,
and Valmiro "Valdo" Lopes scored the visitors` winner in the
Villarreal remained in third place, but let escape a
great chance to close on Real Madrid, which stayed six points
At San Mames Stadium, David Lopez put Bilbao in front in
the 16th from the penalty spot, Gaizka Toquero doubled the
lead in the 27th, and Llorente scored his 13th this season to
cap the win in the 74th. Bilbao has won four straight games
for the first time 1997.
At Juegos Mediterraneos Stadium, Marcelo Silva, Kalu
Uche, Hernan Bernardello put Almeria ahead 3-0 in 18 minutes.
Joan Verdu and substitute Alvaro Vazquez cut the deficit
for Espanyol, but Almeria held on for its second home win.
Also, Getafe downed Deportivo La Coruna 4-1, while
Mallorca drew 1-1 at Osasuna and Racing Santander drew 1-1 at
Adrian Colunga scored twice and Nicolas "Miku" Fedor
added another goal before halftime for Getafe.
Pedro Rios sealed the win in the 57th, and Ivan "Riki"
Sanchez-Rico scored Deportivo`s consolation goal in the 69th
with a penalty.
At Reyno de Navarra Stadium, Osasuna went ahead in the
8th when Miguel Flano finished off a rebound in the area, but
Gonzalo "Chori" Castro equalized for Mallorca in the 37th.
Zaragoza winger Sad Boutahar cancelled out Christian
Fernandez`s 14th-minute opener with a goal in the 40th, but
his team saw its winning run end at three games.
Also today, Sevilla faces Malaga and Hercules is at