No champagne for Barcelona as Villarreal force dramatic draw

May 11th, 2009 - 2:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Chelsea Madrid, May 11 (DPA) Barcelona came close to clinching the Spanish football league title, but were finally held to a 3-3 draw by defiant Villarreal.
With 13 minutes left during Sunday’s Liga encounter, Barca were 3-1 up and the 98,000-strong crowd in the Camp Nou was already celebrating the club’s 19th league title. But Villarreal spoiled the party with late goals from Matias Fernandez and Joseba Llorente.

Barca need just one more point from their last three games to clinch the title, and will probably do so next Sunday away to mid-table Mallorca.

“We wanted to celebrate the title today in front of our own fans,” said Barca’s Seydou Keita. He added that the sending off of Eric Abdial “was the key to our problems at the end”.

Barca coach Josep Guardiola said that “having to play the final minutes with 10 men was very tiring.

“It was a pity that we couldn’t celebrate the title with all the people that came to the stadium.”

Abidal, also sent off against Chelsea Wednesday, got his marching orders 13 minutes from time for pulling down Nihat Kahveci in the box. Fernandez put away the resulting penalty to make it 3-2, and Barca suddenly looked weary from their recent exertions.

In the second minute of injury time, with the crowd begging for the final whistle, Llorente made it 3-3 with a left-foot drive.

Barca now have 86 points from 35 games, eight more than Real Madrid, who were thrashed 3-0 by Valencia Saturday.

In third place, on 63, are Sevilla, four ahead of Valencia.

Keita gave Barca the lead after just 11 minutes with a left-footed long shot. Llorente levelled for Villarreal in the 22nd minute by turning in a perfect centre from Guiseppe Rossi.

Rossi then almost put the visitors ahead but his close-range header was pushed on to the post by Barca keeper Victor Valdes.

League top scorer Eto’o restored Barca’s lead in the 32nd minute on a centre from Andres Iniesta. Alves made it 3-1 just before half-time with a perfect near-post free-kick.

Barca, who have been playing twice a week all season, looked tired in the second half. Even so, few people expected Villarreal to spoil the party so late in the day.

On Wednesday, Barca face unfancied Athletic Bilbao in the King’s Cup final.

In Sunday’s late game, Atletico Madrid pulled off another of their comebacks to beat hapless Espanyol 3-2, a result which leaves them in fifth place, just one point behind Valencia, their next opponents.

Nene and Daniel Jarque gave Espanyol a 2-0 lead by half-time, but two goals from Diego Forlan and one from Sergio Aguero gave Atletico an unlikely but important win.

Forlan is now just one goal behind Barca’s Eto’o in the scorers’ chart, with 27 goals to his name.

Earlier Sunday, former Spain star Michel had lifted Getafe towards safety with a 3-0 thrashing of fellow strugglers Osasuna.

Michel, who has no top-line coaching experience, took over at Getafe two weeks ago from Victor Munoz and has been working round the clock to boost his players’ self-confidence.

Two goals from Esteban Granero and one from Ikechukwu Uche were enough to sink Osasuna, who are coached by Jose Antonio Camacho, Michel’s old Real Madrid and Spain teammate.

“Michel is working hard with us and today’s win will help us a lot,” said Granero.

Three weeks back, Osasuna seemed safe but they are now back in trouble, fourth from bottom with just 36 points from 35 games. Getafe are one point above them, level with Betis on 37 points.

Sporting Gijon are still third from bottom, on 34 points, after crashing 3-1 at Almeria Sunday.

Carmelo gave Gijon an early lead, only for Miguel Nieto, Kalu Uche and Pablo Piatti to turn the tables for Almeria with handsome goals.

One point below Gijon are Recreativo Huelva, who crashed 2-1 at home to Deportivo Coruna, who move up to fifth.

Huelva are one point above bottom team Numancia, who could only manage a 0-0 draw away to Valladolid. In Sunday’s other early game, Malaga beat Racing Santander 1-0, on a late penalty from former Spain striker Albert Luque.

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