Messi staves off the doubts
Barcelona beat Bilbao 2-1 with late Messi goal as talk of 'crisis' after draw and defeat is put on hold.
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2011 04:08 GMT
Messi, right, said every point was 'vital' after securing a late win over Athletic Bilbao [AFP]

Lionel Messi settled Barcelona nerves with a late goal to earn a thrilling 2-1 home victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Primera Liga, ending a turbulent week for the Catalans on a positive note.

The team often described as the best in the world had drawn with Sporting Gijon – and lost to Arsenal in the European Champions League – and when Bilbao's Andoni Iraola levelled with a second-half
penalty at the Nou Camp, they were clearly rattled.

With Real Madrid having narrowed their lead at the top to two points with a comfortable 2-0 win over Levante on Saturday, Barca were uncharacteristically rushed as they poured forward looking for the winner.

"We couldn't allow ourselves another slip up because Madrid were close. Every game is vital," Messi told Spanish television.

"Bilbao were very organised in the way they put us under pressure and played very well. These are three important points."

Results & fixtures

Saturday February 19

 Real Madrid 2 Levante
 Zaragoza 0-1 Atl Madrid  Valencia 0-0 Gijon

Sunday February 20

Barcelona 2-1 Athl Bilbao  Getafe 0-1 Santander
 Osasuna 4-0 Espanyol
 Sevilla 1-0 Hercules
 Almeria 1-1 Deportivo
 Villarreal 1-1 Malaga

Monday February 21

Sociedad v Mallorca

Barca moved on to 65 points from 24 matches with Real on 60.

Fourth-placed Villarreal's faltering form continued when they were held 1-1 at home by basement side Malaga and Osasuna's new coach Jose Luis Mendilibar led his team to a stunning 4-0 win over sixth-placed Espanyol.


The goal of the day came from Deportivo Coruna goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia, who headed a last-ditch equaliser for a 1-1 draw at Almeria.

Barca's 16-match winning streak in the league ended with a 1-1 draw at Sporting last weekend and a 2-1 defeat at Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday suggested the Spanish champions were suffering a dip in form.

Those doubts appeared misplaced when Xavi's diagonal pass over the defence found the overlapping Dani Alves who cushioned a volley inside for Villa to fire first time into the corner after only four minutes.

For all their domination, however, they could not find a second and when Sergio Busquets brought down Fernando Llorente for a penalty, Iraola's 49th-minute spot kick increased the tension in the stadium.

Reserve goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto, deputising for Victor Valdes after he pulled out with a knee injury, had denied Fernando Llorente with a finger tip save, and Gorka Iraizoz pulled off a similar block from Villa.

A fabulous snaking run from Messi looked to have been halted illegally in the area, but the referee waved play on, and just when it seemed the visitors were going to deny them Xavi picked out Alves again and he crossed for Messi to score in the 77th.

"It makes me laugh when people say Barca are in crisis," Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros told reporters. "In my view, it was the same Barca as ever."

Villarreal missed the chance to move above third-placed Valencia, who had drawn 0-0 with Sporting Gijon on Saturday, when they drew at the Madrigal.

Marco Ruben gave the hosts the lead in the 35th minute, bundling in from close range after good work from Giuseppe Rossi, but Sebastian Fernandez levelled on a counter-attack for Malaga eight minutes from time.

A third consecutive game without a win left Villarreal on 46 points, two behind Valencia. Bilbao are fifth with 38 and Espanyol sixth with 37.

Sevilla are seventh on 34 points after an Ivan Rakitic goal earned a 1-0 win over Hercules.

Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
About 500,000 participated around the globe in the Peoples Climate March, and Al Jazeera spoke to some in New York.
Separatist movements in Spain, Belgium and Italy may face headwinds following Scotland's decision to stay in the UK.
A fishing trawler carrying 500 migrants across the Mediterranean was rammed by another boat, causing hundreds to drown.
Anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party - with roots in the neo-Nazi movement - recently won 12.9 percent of the vote.
Palestinian doctor who lost three daughters in previous Gaza war is fighting to bring 100 wounded kids to Canada.