Seydou Keita and Xavi
struck in the last 11 minutes to earn 10-man Barcelona a nervy
3-1 home win over lowly Sporting Gijon that kept their La Liga
title hopes alive on Saturday.
With leading scorer Lionel Messi suspended for the first
time in his career, the champions lacked a cutting edge until
Andres Iniesta fired them in front just before halftime at the
The game was turned on its head a minute into the second
half when home defender Gerard Pique was shown a harsh red card
as he got in a tangle with Miguel de las Cuevas on the edge of
the Barca area.
Almost immediately substitute David Barral stole in front of
keeper Victor Valdes to nudge in the equaliser for second from
The magnificent Iniesta drove Barca forward in search of the
winner and it was Keita who struck the decisive goal with a
stunning shot into the top corner from an Alexis layoff.
Iniesta then conjured a third goal for Xavi who finished
with a neat lob at the end as Barca closed the gap on leaders
Real Madrid to seven points before Jose Mourinho's side hosted
Espanyol at the Bernabeu on Sunday.
"With Messi it would have been easier because he is the best
player in the world," Mali international Keita told Spanish
"I don't know if I have saved the team. It was just
important to win three points."
Keita refused to speak about referee Carlos Velasco Carballo
but Pique was highly critical when he spoke to reporters.
"I have seen it on television and I didn't even commit a
foul," he said. "It felt like it was a premeditated decision.
"I told the referee at half-time he should have signalled a
penalty in favour of Keita and he remembered this."
Real, on course for a first league title in four years, have
64 points and second-placed Barca 57.
Big-spending Malaga moved up to fourth on 37 points with
their first away win since November.
Manuel Pellegrini's side climbed into the Champions League
qualification places with a 3-1 win at Getafe courtesy
of three spectacular long-range strikes.
Portugal's Eliseu fired Malaga level after 57 minutes,
France midfielder Jeremy Toulalan crashed a second in off the
post and Spain's Santi Cazorla caught out the home goalkeeper from
just over the halfway line with a wonderful lob in stoppage-time.
Atletico Madrid stayed ninth with 33 points after being held
to a 1-1 draw at tenth-placed Sevilla, a point doing little for
either side's European aspirations.
Salvio headed Atletico in front after only nine minutes but
Baba grabbed an equaliser for the hosts after a counter-attack
in the 53rd.
Rayo Vallecano came back from 2-0 down to beat 10-man Racing
Santander 4-2 while Real Mallorca drew 1-1 at home to Osasuna.
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