Bad Sunday in Spanish football for Barcelona, Villarreal, Valencia

March 2nd, 2009 - 2:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Thierry HenryMadrid, March 2 (DPA) It was a bad Sunday in Spain for giants Barcelona, Villarreal and Valencia, all of whom looked tired after their midweek European exertions.
Barca lost a heart-stopping match 4-3 against defiant Atletico Madrid and are now just four points ahead of second-placed Real Madrid, who scored their 10th straight win Saturday, 2-0 at lowly Espanyol.

On Sunday Villarreal threw away a two-goal lead at Betis and had to settle for a 2-2 draw. Valencia crashed 2-1 at home to lively Valladolid and have just two points from their last four games.

The results leave Barca top on 60 points, followed by Real on 56. Sevilla - 2-1 winners Saturday at Athletic Bilbao - are third on 47 points, followed by Villarreal on 42. Then come four teams on 39 points: Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Malaga and Deportivo Coruna.

Atletico-Barca clashes are usually full of goals and controversy - and Sunday’s game was no exception. Atletico came back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to score an epic win, with two goals apiece from South American strikers Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan.

“I dedicate this win to our fans,” Forlan gasped. “They were wonderful tonight. We couldn’t have won without them.”

Barca have picked up just one point from their last three Liga games and have seen their 12-point lead slashed to just four.

Thierry Henry gave Barca the lead in the 19th minute with a tremendous right-footed drive, and Lionel Messi made it 2-0 on the half hour with one of his classy solo goals.

The tide began to turn just three minutes later, when Forlan reduced arrears with a handsome, left-footed shot.

Then Aguero, son-in-law of Argentine national manager Diego Maradona, took take centre-stage. He started to pull the shaky Barca defence apart and made it 2-2 in the 57th minute with a calm finish.

Against the run of play, Henry restored Barca’s lead in the 74th minute after being set up by Eidur Gudjohnsen. Twelve minutes from time, though, Atletico were given a dubious penalty for a supposed foul by Henry, and Forlan made it 3-3 from the spot.

There were heart-stopping chances at both ends in a frenetic finale, and Aguero made it 3-3 with another cool finish after a thoughtful one-two with Maniche.

Barca left the euphoric Estadio Calderon complaining about the referee, though they would be better advised to think about why their defence has conceded eight goals in three league games.

Villarreal, meanwhile, were suffering a meltdown of their own against lively Betis.

Two early goals from Santi Cazorla put Villarreal in the driving seat, only for Betis to battle out a 2-2 draw thanks to strikes from Sergio Garcia and Ricardo Oliveira.

Earlier Sunday, Valencia crashed 2-1 at home against Valladolid. Jonathan Sesma headed the visitors into an early lead, and Raul Albiol made it 2-0 with his second clumsy own goal within a fortnight.

Carlos Marchena pulled back a late goal for the hosts, but, with David Villa suspended, Valencia lacked craft in attack throughout.

The latest setback - just three days after Valencia’s UEFA Cup meltdown against Dynamo Kiev - increases the pressure on coach Unai Emery.

Earlier Sunday, Malaga missed a golden opportunity to get into the Champions League frame, losing 2-0 at home to lowly Recreativo Huelva.

Malaga looked nervous from start to finish and were crippled 10 minutes before half-time by the sending-off of midfielder Lolo for elbowing Jesus Vazquez.

In the 54th minute, Javier Camunas put Huelva ahead with a low, long shot. Adrian Colunga made it 2-0 for the visitors 12 minutes later, after being set up by Camunas.

Sunday’s other games all had relegation significance. Bottom team Numancia crashed 1-0 at home to Deportivo Coruna on a late goal from Juan Rodriguez. Osasuna battled out a useful 1-1 draw in Santander, and Mallorca won 1-0 at Sporting Gijon.

Hugo Sanchez’s Almeria, meanwhile, were pulling off another comeback win, beating luckless Getafe 2-1 with two more goals from local hero Alvaro Negredo.

Numancia are bottom with 20 points, followed by Espanyol on 21 and Osasuna on 25.

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