Barcelona extend lead as Atletico, Real drop points 

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Madrid, Feb 22 (IANS) Barcelona closed in on the La Liga title in the 25th round as the Spanish football club opened a lead of eight points over Atletico Madrid and nine over Real Madrid.

Barcelona had temporarily extended their lead to nine and 10 points over their closest rivals when they won 2-1 away to Las Palmas. All the goals were within the first 40 minutes as first Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba combined to set up Luis Suarez for the opening goal after just six minutes, reports Xinhua.

Las Palmas equalised three minutes later through William Jose, who beat Dani Alves to slide the ball past Claudio Bravo and level the scores. But Neymar assured Barcelona would take all three points in the 39th minute when he was on hand to smash home the rebound after Javi Varas in the Las Palmas goal had saved from Lionel Messi.

Sunday saw Atletico drop two points in the title race as they were held to a grim 0-0 draw at home to fourth place Villarreal, who travelled to Madrid looking for a draw and held on with considerable ease.

Real Madrid virtually waved goodbye to their title hopes when they were only able to draw 1-1 away to Malaga on Sunday. Cristiano Ronaldo scored for Real Madrid from a clear offside position to put Zinedine Zidane’s side ahead, but he also saw Carlos Kameni save his effort from the penalty spot and that was to be vital.

Real Madrid did not play well but unlike recent games they didn’t have the injured Karim Benzema to lend support to Ronaldo and were made to pay by a well organised Malaga when Raul Albentosa beat Keylor Navas to level the score 20 minutes after the break.

Stephen N’Zonzi and Vicente Iborra looked to have put Sevilla on track for a win away to Rayo Vallecano as the Cup finalists raced into a 2-0 lead. However, Manucho pulled a goal back two minutes before the break and Miku’s run of form continued when he equalised just after the hour with his fifth goal in five successive games, something nobody has ever done before at the club.

Jonathas’ 17th minute goal helped Real Sociedad to win the Basque derby away to neighbours Athletic Club Bilbao while second half strikes from Dani Parejo and Santi Mina gave Gary Neville his third win in a week as Valencia coach as they won 2-1 away to struggling Granada, who scored a 93rd minute consolation through Ortega Mendez.

Under pressure Espanyol coach Constantin Galca can breathe a little easier after Marcos Asensio’s 52nd gave his side a 1-0 win at home to Deportivo la Coruna and probably saved him from being sacked by the La Liga strugglers.

Betis and Sporting Gijon shared two goals and the points in a 1-1 draw where both goals came in the space of three minutes with Carlos Castro’s second goal in two games putting Sporting ahead in the 65th minute before German Pezzella equalised in the 67th minute for the home side.

John Guidetti’s excellent year continued with two goals as Celta Vigo beat Eibar 3-2. The Swede’s two goals and a further strike from Jonny had given them a seemingly comfortable 3-0 lead but Eibar’s never say die attitude saw them pull back late goals through Borja Baston and Takasi Inui to leave home fans asking for the final whistle.

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