Spanish international Xavi came off the bench to score a vital 88th minute winner as Barcelona sliced Real Madrid's lead at the top of the table to six points with a 1-0 win over Osasuna.
|Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta celebrate |
their victory [GALLO/GETTY]
Xavi had only been on the pitch for six minutes but showed great technique to rifle home the decisive goal and spark wild celebrations at Camp Nou.
Real's 2-0 defeat by Almeria on Saturday gave Barca a golden chance to close the gap but it looked like they were destined for a frustrating night until Xavi's intervention.
"This victory is great for our morale," said Barca coach Frank Rijkaard.
"I am not looking at (Real) Madrid too much to be honest. They have the advantage and are the best at the moment but I am not focusing on them."
"The rhythm of this game was constantly interrupted and a lot of time was wasted which made it difficult but we created a lot of goalscoring chances and we had a really good attitude."
The rain-soaked pitch was far from ideal but Barca created several chances with Lionel Messi and the 17-year-old Bojan Krkic, called up into the Spain squad for the first time, both going close.
But Osasuna defended well and Rijkaard brought on Ronaldinho for Messi with 20 minutes left.
However, it was another substitute who had the final say with Xavi popping up with a crucial goal.
Valencia gave embattled coach Ronald Koeman a much-needed win with their 2-0 triumph at Valladolid ending a miserable league run of nine games without victory.
Goals from Mata and David Villa lifted the club, who reached the cup semi-finals in midweek, two places into ninth.
"We know what it is like to suffer but now we have won we can relax a bit and concentrate on collecting more points," said Koeman.
It was a first win since mid-November and welcome relief for Koeman, who has only been in the job three months, who had fans calling for him to be sacked after last weekend's 1-0 home defeat by Almeria.
Atletico Madrid lost out to Valencia in the quarter-finals of the cup and their sticky patch continues with a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Real Murcia.
The capital club, who have collected just one point from the last nine, fell behind to a Jofre penalty and needed an equaliser from former Liverpool star Luis Garcia to salvage a point.
Atletico coach Javier Aguirre refused to blame his team's poor showing on fatigue.
"Big teams have to learn how to play Sunday, Wednesday and then the following Sunday," said Aguirre.
Fortunately for Atletico third-placed Villarreal, eliminated by Barcelona in the cup, also dropped points following a 1-1 draw with Real Mallorca.
Villarreal went ahead when Guiseppe Rossi scored his 10th of the season from the penalty spot on 26 minutes but Aggelos Basinas equalised.
Sevilla enjoy rare away win
Sevilla were the big winners of the day with Brazilian goal machine Luis Fabiano scoring twice in a 2-1 win over Recreativo.
It was only Sevilla's second away win of the season and even more impressive as they had to play half the match with ten men after Aquivaldo Mosquera was sent off for collecting two bookings inside sixty seconds.
But Fabiano has been a real plus for Sevilla this season and his 15th and 16th goals of the season help the club move to within six points of the Champions League spots.
"We gave our rivals the advantage at the beginning of the season but fortunately we are now climbing the table," said Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez.
"We are strong at home but not away so it was vital that we took three points today. It is a step in the right direction."
Espanyol moved into fourth place with a 1-0 win over Getafe thanks to a goal from Jonathan Soriano.
Ricardo Oliveira guided in Diego Milito's cross in the 28th at Zaragoza to give coach Javier Irureta his first victory with the club as they beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0.
Irureta also tied Miguel Munoz with 608 league matches coached, second most on the all-time list after Luis Aragones' 757.
Finally, Mustapha Riga slotted in a corner kick in the 56th for last-place Levante, but Racing Santander rallied behind Aldo Pedro Duscher's disputed penalty in the 75th to end the match 1-1.