Barcelona prepare title party, Hercules relegated
Madrid: Barcelona were crowned Spanish champions for the third successive season with a 1-1 draw at Levante on Wednesday clinching a 21st domestic title with two games to spare.
Barcelona needed just a point to retain the title and they duly obliged to become the first side to win three consecutive league titles since 1993 when Johan Cruyff`s Barcelona `Dream Team` won the third of their four straight league crowns.
Mali midfielder Seydo Keita headed in a 27th minute opener for Barcelona only for Ecuadorian striker Felipe Caicedo to equalise on 40 minutes, but it didn`t matter as a draw gave the Catalan side the title.
"It`s always a nice feeling to win the title and the fans really deserve this," said midfielder Xavi.
"I imagine we`re going to celebrate this title win with them tonight in the streets of Barcelona."
Barcelona stand six points ahead of second-placed Real Madrid and they lift the title courtesy of their superior head to head record over their rivals.
Coach Pep Guardiola has won the league title in each of his three seasons in charge and can now concentrate on going for the double with the Champions League final against Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on May 28.
"Winning the title is always difficult and this one was tough just like the others were before," said Guardiola. "Now we can enjoy this win."
Real Madrid`s 4-0 win over Getafe at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday meant Barcelona had to finish the title job themselves.
Guardiola vowed not to rest his stars and was true to his word as the likes of Lionel Messi, David Villa and Xavi started although Andres Iniesta began on the bench.
French international Eric Abidal also started at left back in his first league start since mid-March having successfully undergone surgery on a liver tumour.
Levante sounded an early warning with Valdo firing just wide but the visitors drew first blood through Keita on 27 minutes.
Xavi picked out Keita as he made a late run into the box and he produced a terrific header.
Barcelona had one hand on the trophy but got complacent with Spanish international Gerard Pique making a schoolboy defensive mistake to confuse goalkeeper Victor Valdes and Caicedo was on hand to equalise.
Messi went close with a free-kick before the interval but at the break the title was in their hands despite a below-par display.
The champions came out with more urgency in the second half and Messi took centre stage on 57 minutes with a neat turn and dribble past three men with his quick feet but his shot crashed against the left hand post to safety.
The Ballon D`Or holder then went on another mazy run but his shot crept wide as Barcelona waited for a goal to ease their nerves.
Both teams appeared happy with the draw, with Levante moving four points above the relegation zone, as the game petered out and Barcelona popped the champagne corks.
In other matches, Valencia missed the chance to seal third spot in the league following a 2-2 draw at Espanyol.
Ernesto Galan scored a 76th minute equaliser for Espanyol to salvage a point and leave Valencia, five points ahead of fourth-placed Villarreal, needing a point from their remaining two games to clinch third and the automatic Champions League berth.
Villarreal drew 0-0 with relegated Almeria on Wednesday and have guaranteed fourth spot and a place in the Champions League qualifying rounds.
Down at the bottom promoted Hercules, one of only two teams to beat Barcelona in the league this season, were relegated following a 2-2 home draw against Real Mallorca on Wednesday.
Hercules led 2-0 but two goals in four minutes late in the second half sees them six points adrift of safety and Getafe`s superior head to head record means they join Almeria in being relegated from the Spanish top-flight.
Osasuna staged the comeback of the day, however, coming from two goals down to defeat Sevilla 3-2 on Wednesday in a crucial win for their survival bid.
Alvaro Negredo had scored a brace to put Sevilla two goals up but Osasuna scored twice in the final five minutes to turn the game.
Substitute Dejan Lekic scored an 89th minute winner as Osasuna moved five points clear of the bottom three, while Sevilla missed the chance to go above Athletic Bilbao into fifth.