Friday 23 February 2018

Barca better late than never as Messi weaves more magic

Spanish round-up

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

EVEN the striking Spanish air traffic controllers could not halt the march of Barcelona on Saturday night as it was a case of better late than never for the Catalans in Pamplona.

A Leo Messi brace saw the champions end a stunning week in style with a 3-0 win over Osasuna, to retain the two-point lead at the top of the Primera Liga table that they earned by beating Real Madrid 5-0 last Monday. That, despite a hastily arranged four-hour train and bus journey to the Basque country.

The match kicked off 45 minutes late, but Barca were furious that the match was not delayed by 24 hours. The club claimed the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) had informed them that, due to the exceptional circumstances, the match would be postponed until yesterday if they could not travel by plane.


However, with Osasuna reportedly unwilling to change the fixture, the Catalan club said they were told at around 3.0 local time that the game would go ahead as originally scheduled, forcing them to make hasty arrangements for the journey to Pamplona or risk forfeiting the three points.

The squad left Barcelona at 4.0, catching a high-speed train to Zaragoza and completing the rest of the trip by coach. But it didn't seem to affect their Argentinian superstar, who created the opening goal for Pedro in the first half before finding the net twice after the break to complete the job.

The fallout from the incident looks set to run, however, as Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets hit out at the federation. "It's been a tough day," he said. "The federation had told us that if we couldn't fly to Pamplona the game would be postponed and then they didn't keep their word.

"At the start, we found it a little tough because they came out strong and we were affected by how the day had gone. (But) we've played in the same way as we have been playing and we won. The most important thing is the three points.''

But Barcelona president Sandro Rosell took his share of the responsibility. "I have seen and heard commentaries of all types," Rosell said in a letter to club members posted on their website. "They have criticised our lack of planning, our strategy of communication and have doubted our ability to manage a crisis such as yesterday's.

"I take all the responsibility for what happened in the hours leading up to Saturday's game. I managed our dealings with the RFEF, I trusted the RFEF and AENA (the Spanish airport authority). We will draw conclusions for the future."

Meanwhile, Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid showed some character to bounce back from their Nou Camp humiliation, beating Valencia 2-0 at the Bernabeu thanks to two Cristiano Ronaldo goals. Despite the loss of the suspended Sergio Ramos, the visit of the fifth-placed visitors -- who take on Manchester United in the Champions League at Old Trafford on Wednesday night -- could not add to Real's misery.

It was former Red Devil Ronaldo who did the damage, going some way to making up for his poor showing against the champions. But the home faithful were made to wait for their glory, as the Portuguese star -- who has been struggling with an ankle injury -- netted in the 73rd and 87th minutes to keep pace with the leaders.

Nilmar grabbed the only goal as Villareal beat Sevilla 1-0 to stay in third place, but the southerners slipped to their fourth successive defeat. They leapfrogged Espanyol who saw off Sporting Gijon 1-0, while Atletico Madrid lost again -- slipping to a shock 2-0 defeat to Levante.

Irish Independent

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