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Messi nets goals 50 & 51
BARCELONA, Spain --- Lionel Messi
scored his 50th and 51st goals in
all competitions to help Barcelona
keep the pressure on Real Madrid
in the Spanish league's tight title
Neymar and Luis Suarez also struck
in a 4-1 victory over Villarreal that
increased the combined goal tally of
Barcelona's trio of star strikers to 102
goals in the campaign.
Barcelona's fifth straight win gave it
three more points than Madrid before
the latter visited the relegated Granada
Barcelona holds the tiebreaker over
Madrid, but Madrid will still have three
matches to play after this round to
Barcelona's two. That means Madrid
controls its own fate as it tries to de-
throne Barcelona and lift its first Liga
title since 2012.
BARCELONA 4, VILLARREAL 1
Messi's goal on the last kick of the
first half tilted a match that was wide
open for the first 45 minutes, in Bar-
Neymar, who excelled in his incur-
sions from the left flank throughout,
opened the scoring when he poked in
a shot by Messi that hit a defender and
fell to him in front of goalkeeper Andres
Villarreal responded with a goal by
striker Cedric Bakambu in the 32nd
when Roberto Soldado played him
clear on the break as he sped away
from Gerard Pique.
Pique wasted a cross by Messi that he
only had to nod in and Soldado barely
missed with a header on the other end
before Neymar helped Messi take back
the lead. It's the fifth season in Messi's
career that he's reached 50 goals.
Neymar deftly dribbled past a pair of
defenders and laid off for Messi to put
the ball on his left boot. Head down,
Messi opened an angle around two
defenders and unleashed a long strike
that took a deflection off Villarreal's
Mario Gaspar before finding the net.
Suarez fired his goal under Fernan-
dez in the 69th after Sergi Roberto set
him up in the area.
Messi added a penalty that he con-
verted in the "panenka" style, gently
chipping the ball down the middle after
the goalie moved, after Jaume Costa
handled the ball in the box.
Messi increased his league-leading
haul to 35 goals, followed by Suarez's
ATLETICO MADRID 1, EIBAR 0
Atletico Madrid rebounded from
its stinging loss to Real Madrid in the
Champions League by sealing its return
to the continent's top-tier competition
for a fifth consecutive year.
Atletico's victory at home over Ei-
bar ensured Diego Simeone's side will
finish in the top four places in Spain
with two matches remaining.
Atletico remained in third place, five
points ahead of Sevilla in fourth and
11 ahead of Villarreal in fifth.
Atletico lost at Madrid 3-0 in the
opening leg of their Champions League
semifinal on Tuesday. The return leg
is next Wednesday.
Far from being downcast following
that defeat, Atletico's fans cheered
loudly throughout the match and ap-
plauded players after the final whistle.
"It's incredible, our fans are with us
until the end," goalscorer Saul Niguez
said. "We gave it our all, just like our
fans despite the result of the other day.
They will be with us again on Wednes-
day. We will do everything we can to
pull off the comeback."
The top three spots in Spain earn
automatic berths to next season's
Champions League group phase while
the fourth-placed finisher must go
through a playoff.
Atletico labored to the win thanks to
Niguez' 69th-minute goal. The mid-
fielder drilled in a low cross by Diego
Godin that substitute Fernando Torres
smartly decided not to touch when it
crossed his path.
Godin was sent off in stoppage time
after picking up two quick bookings,
ruling him out of the penultimate
round at Real Betis.
Eibar was left in eighth place.
SPORTING GIJON 1, LAS PALMAS 0
Carlos Carmona's goal mid-
way through the second half gave
Sporting hope that it can avoid
Sporting's first win in eight rounds
lifted it to within three points of Le-
ganes, which hosts Real Betis tomor-
Osasuna, along with Granada, have
already been relegated. (AP)
Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic, centre, celebrates with Lionel Messi, left, and Luis
Suarez after scoring during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real
Madrid and Barcelona, dubbed 'el clasico', at the Santiago Bernabeu
stadium in Madrid, Spain, on April 23. AP PHOTO
...as Barca keeps pressure on Madrid
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