MADRID - Lionel Messi missed a slew of
chances before squeezing home a late strike to give Barcelona a
1-0 win at third-placed Valencia in La Liga on Wednesday and
stretch the champions lead over Real Madrid to 10 points.
With Barca looking like they might drop points for only the
fourth time this season, the Argentina forward struck a low shot
in the 77th minute at the Mestalla that spun just inside the
post off the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.
Messi's league leading 27th goal lifted Barca to 71 points
from 26 matches. They have now won 12 of 13 away games, drawing
last month at Sporting Gijon in their only slip-up on the road.
They are also unbeaten in their last 20 away matches,
beating a La Liga record set by Basque club Real Sociedad at the
end of the 1970s.
Real Madrid can trim the gap to seven points with a win at
Malaga on Thursday, when the Andalusian club's coach Manuel
Pellegrini returns to the Bernabeu to face the man who replaced
him at Real at the end of last season, Jose Mourinho.
Another of Pellegrini's former clubs, Villarreal, breathed
life into their bid for a place in next season's Champions
League earlier on Wednesday when Giuseppe Rossi struck to give
them a 1-0 home win over promoted Hercules.
The Italy forward sped on to Cani's through ball in the 21st
minute at the Madrigal and finished past Juan Calatayud to lift
Villarreal to 50 points from 26 matches, one behind Valencia.
Juan Carlos Garrido's Villarreal side, who are still alive
in the Europa League, had lost two and drawn two of their last
four league matches.
Messi should have put Barca ahead in the ninth minute at a
noisy Mestalla in Valencia when he was denied three times in
quick succession by some desperate defence.
He had another great chance when he was clean through in the
31st but his chipped effort landed on the roof of net and he
also skewed a shot just wide of goal early in the second half.
Valencia, who had hassled and harried the Barca players
impressively throughout the match, had several good
opportunities of their own but Pablo Hernandez and substitute
Roberto Soldado were unable to convert.
Barca's Brazilian defender Adriano, who provided the assist
for Messi's goal when he cut in from the left wing, said his
team had been made to work hard for the three points.
"It was our most difficult away game, together with the
(Real match next month), but the work is not over," he said in a
"We have to work a lot to win the championship," he added,
with an eye on Barca's games at Sevilla on March 13 and at
Villarreal on April 3.
Europa League champions Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao
stumbled in their campaigns for a European berth.
Atletico were held to a 1-1 draw at city rivals Getafe and
Bilbao squandered the lead to lose 2-1 at Real Zaragoza.
Atletico are eighth on 35 points, three behind Bilbao and
Sevilla, who beat visiting Sporting Gijon 3-0 on Tuesday.
Espanyol lost 2-1 at home to Real Mallorca on Tuesday and
remain fifth on 40 points.
In other matches on Wednesday, Osasuna drew 0-0 with
visiting Deportivo La Coruna and Real Sociedad and Levante drew 1-1
in San Sebastian.
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