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Messi hat trick destroys Zaragoza
Barcelona striker takes season tally to 34 goals and helps team keep pace with Real.
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2010 01:28 GMT
Messi's hat trick took his season tally in all competitions to 34 goals [AFP]

Lionel Messi's second hat trick in eight days took his season tally to 34 goals and helped Barcelona beat Real Zaragoza 4-2 on Sunday to stay second in the Spanish league behind Real Madrid.

Despite suffering from a swollen gum, Messi tormented Zaragoza's defence with a combination of close dribbling, strength and deadly finishing.

The Argentina forward, who also hit a hat trick last weekend against Valencia, now has a league-leading 25 goals.

He headed home Pedro Rodriguez's cross in the fifth minute, but it was his 66th-minute strike that will be added to his lengthening list of great goals.

He stole possession near the halfway line, bursting past one player before his quick feet left defender Matteo Contini on the turf.

Contini could only clutch at his opponent's shorts as Messi beat goalkeeper Roberto Jimenez with a low shot that brought a standing ovation from most fans at La Romareda stadium.

Messi followed that up with a curled shot in the 78th to beat Jimenez and claim his fifth career hat trick.

All that, and he was still able to exhibit humility, saying: "The team takes credit for the goals, I was lucky to score them."

Zaragoza's Adrian Colunga took advantage of defensive lapses to score twice in the closing moments.

But Messi's dazzling skills led Contini to drag him down for a 90th-minute penalty that Zlatan Ibrahimovic converted for his first goal in March.

Madrid and Barcelona both have 68 points, but Madrid lead on goal difference.

Valencia stay third

Mallorca moved into the Spanish league's Champions League places with a 4-1 victory over Atletico Madrid, while David Silva paced third-place Valencia to a 2-0 win over Almeria.

La Liga results

Saturday March 20

 Athletic Bilbao 2-2 Getafe
 Deportivo 0-2 Valladolid
 Xerez 2-1 Tenerife
 Real Madrid 3-1 Sp Gijon
 Espanyol 2-0 Sevilla

Sunday March 21

 Malaga 2-0 Villarreal
 Osasuna 1-3 Santander
 Real Mallorca 4-1 Atl Madrid
 Valencia 2-0 Almeria
 Real Zaragoza 2-4 Barcelona

Valencia has 50 points, Mallorca 46, Sevilla 44 and Athletic Bilbao and Deportivo La Coruna both have 42.

Also, Racing Santander came from behind to win 3-1 at Osasuna and Nabil Baha scored two second-half goals as Malaga beat Villarreal 2-0.

At Mestalla stadium, Almeria held out until the 63rd minute when Silva steered a precise ball into the box for Juanma Mata, who sent his shot inside the near post.

Silva showed his athleticism in the 70th as the Spain international was tripped up inside the box after reaching David Villa's pass, but still managed to swipe a shot from the ground past goalkeeper Diego Alves and inside the far post.

At Pamplona, Miguel Flano headed Osasuna ahead in the 32nd before Gonzalo Colsa equalised three minutes later by latching on to a ball just outside the area to rifle home.

Racing led through Christian Fernandez's header in the 51st, and teammate Papakouly Diop ensured victory with a goal in the 89th.

It was Racing's first win in nearly two months and took the team seven points clear of the drop zone.

Source:
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