MADRID - Barcelona's advantage over Real
Madrid at the top of La Liga was cut to five points when they
surrendered the lead and were held to a 1-1 draw in a thrilling
clash at battling Sevilla on Sunday.
Pep Guardiola's side had their usual swagger in the first
half at the Sanchez Pizjuan and looked to be cruising when
substitute Bojan Krkic, who replaced the injured Pedro, put them
ahead in the 30th minute.
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However, after Alvaro Negredo held off two defenders and
crossed for Jesus Navas to nod in the equaliser four minutes
after half-time the match burst into life, with end-to-end action
and both sides coming desperately close to snatching a winner.
Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta crashed a shot off the
crossbar with just under five minutes remaining and had an
effort cleared off the line in added time after goalkeeper
Victor Valdes had saved brilliantly from Sevilla winger Navas.
Joint La Liga top scorer Lionel Messi, who had a scare when
he hurt his right knee in a clash with Sevilla keeper Javi Varas
but was able to play on, also headed against the crossbar in the
Guardiola said the introduction just after the break of
Sevilla's Mali striker Frederic Kanoute, who sent Negredo clear
in the build-up to the home side's goal and twice came close to
scoring, had made the difference.
"They (Sevilla) are a very good team and have been playing
at a high level for many years," the former Barca and Spain
midfielder told a news conference.
"Kanoute gave them the continuity that they were missing,"
he added. "We got too little return for what we created in the
He said he was "generally happy" with the result after his
players' efforts in the Champions League on Tuesday, when they
overturned a 2-1 first-leg deficit to eliminate English club
Arsenal 4-3 on aggregate and reach the last eight.
Real continued their perfect home record on Saturday when
Karim Benzema netted twice in a 2-0 home win over Hercules and
with 10 matches remaining champions Barca have 75 points to
"We still have the upper hand," Barca midfielder Sergio
Busquets said in a television interview.
"We controlled the match well apart from the first 15
minutes of the second half."
Villarreal missed a chance to trim the gap to third-placed
Valencia to one point earlier on Sunday when they conceded a
late penalty to gift nine-man Sporting Gijon a 1-1 draw.
Giuseppe Rossi had put Villarreal ahead in the 29th minute
at the Madrigal when the United States-born Italy striker
pounced on a keeping error to sweep a loose ball in off the
post, his 15th of the campaign.
The club with the distinctive canary-yellow kit were closing
in on victory following a run of only one win in seven games
when Gijon defender Jose Angel Valdes earned a second yellow
card with 25 minutes remaining and captain Rafael Sastre was
shown a straight red for bringing down Rossi in the 90th.
However, David Barral went down in the penalty area in added
time and Diego Castro converted the spot-kick with an audacious
chip into the centre of the goal.
Villarreal have 51 points from 28 matches, three behind
Valencia, who held on to Spain's third automatic Champions
League qualification berth despite crashing to a 4-0 defeat at
Real Zaragoza on Saturday.
It was a further blow to Unai Emery's side following their
elimination from Europe's elite club competition by Schalke 04
In other matches on Sunday, European hopefuls Espanyol ended
a run of six defeats in their last seven matches when they beat
10-man Deportivo La Coruna 2-0 to climb above Athletic Bilbao into
fifth on 43 points.
Bilbao can reclaim fifth spot with a win at Getafe in the
Malaga secured only their seventh win of the campaign when
they won 2-0 at Real Sociedad but remain bottom of the
standings, level on 26 points with Hercules and Almeria.
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