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Messi Magic Rescues Barcelona

Barcelona extended their lead at the top of the Primera Liga to 12 points after rallying from 2-1 down to win 3-2 at rock-bottom Osasuna.

The Catalan giants were in danger of falling victim to one of the shocks of the season when Samuel Eto’o’s opener was overturned by efforts from Miguel Flano and Walter Pandiani. But Barca dug deep and levelled through Xavi before Lionel Messi lashed home a wonderful winner with five minutes to go.

Arch-rivals Real Madrid are now the closest challengers to Pep Guardiola’s side after cruising to a 3-0 win at Real Mallorca. The visitors were two-up after 17 minutes, Arjen Robben and Raul – on his 500th league appearance – grabbing the goals. Defender Sergio Ramos capped a fine team performance midway through the second half.

Atletico Madrid’s title challenge is all but over after they lost 3-2 at home to Athletic Bilbao. Antonio Lopez put the hosts ahead but Lertxundi Koikili equalised before two goals from Fernando Llorente put the Basques in control. Maniche was then sent-off for Atletico but the 10 men did grab a last-minute consolation through Diego Forlan.

Eliseu Pereira netted an injury-time winner to deny nine-man Real Betis a gutsy point against Malaga. Having lost Melli and Achille Emana to red cards, it seemed inevitable that Malaga would stroll to victory. But they met with fierce resistance from a home side, who when playing with 10 men cancelled out Antonio Apono’s opener from the penalty spot with an equaliser from Emana. Betis, who are now just three points above the drop zone, created the better chances throughout despite the numerical inferiority but fell for the sucker punch provided by Eliseu with time almost up.

Sporting Gijon claimed their second win over Real Valladolid in the space of four days – this time prevailing 2-1 – to dent the visitors’ unlikely bid for a European place. Carmelo Gonzalez and David Barral combined twice in the first half to settle a bad-tempered, low-quality contest at El Molinon. In between times Valladolid, who went down 3-1 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey last-16 clash between the two sides in midweek, lost Alberto Marcos to a red card and from then on never looked like rescuing a point. Jose Antonio Garcia Calvo pulled one back for the visitors late on with their first chance of note, but it could not disguise a desperate performance.

Numancia put some much-needed space between themselves and the relegation zone with a 2-0 win over 10-man Getafe amid controversy at Los Pajaritos. The game hinged on the decision of referee Alfonso Alvarez Izquierdo to award the hosts a penalty and send off visiting keeper Roberto Abbondanzieri for a debatable foul on Asier Goiria Exteberria inside the opening five minutes. Jose Javier Barkero cashed in by converting from the spot, although Victor Munoz’s men put up a brave fight to try and overcome their numerical disadvantage and they looked capable of sneaking a point until substitute Carlos Aranda settled matters with a fine solo effort late on.

Recreativo Huelva edged a point closer to Primera Liga survival following a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Racing Santander. Jonathan Pereira gave Racing the lead after 33 minutes but Javier Camunas equalised shortly before half-time and the visitors held on for a point to preserve their unbeaten start to 2009.

Espanyol came from two goals down to rescue a dramatic 2-2 draw in the fifth minute of injury time against Almeria but remain in the bottom three. Nigeria striker Kalu Uche struck early in each half to give Almeria a two-goal lead, and Roman Martinez’s 63rd-minute reply looked to be nothing more than a consolation for the home side as the seconds ticked away. But Nico Pareja’s stunning 95th-minute free-kick saved Espanyol’s blushes in a game the Catalans could ill afford to lose.

On Saturday, a contentious late penalty denied Valencia victory in a thrilling 3-3 draw at home to Villarreal. Giuseppe Rossi converted from the spot in the 84th minute after Joan Capdevila had tumbled under a soft but untidy challenge from Joaquin to earn Villarreal a point at the Mestalla. Substitute Edu had headed Valencia in front five minutes earlier as Villarreal’s stirring fightback from two goals down looked like it would go unrewarded. Two early efforts from Ruben Baraja and David Villa had Valencia up and running within 10 minutes, but the Yellow Submarine replied through Fabricio Fuentes on the stroke of half-time and Joseba Llorente in the 77th minute. Llorente’s goal was the first of three in seven minutes, and the home side’s failure to hold on to their leads saw them slip to third, 10 points behind Barca.

Sevilla moved up to second, a point ahead of Valencia, after a stirring second-half comeback earned them a 3-1 win at in-form Deportivo La Coruna. The visitors looked down and out at half-time, trailing to Rafael Bodipo’s strike and a man light following the sending off of Enzo Maresca for a cynical elbow on the Depor frontman just before the break. But they defeated the same opposition in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last-16 tie on Wednesday, and did so again tonight thanks in no small part to the half-time introduction of Frederic Kanoute.

The Mali striker set up Luis Fabiano (50) and then Renato (78) as Sevilla turned the game on its head before Diego Capel sealed the comeback in injury time.