Sport Soccer

Thursday 22 February 2018

Messi strikes to keep slim title hopes alive for Barca

Barcelona's Lionel Messi kicks a fault before scoring a goal against Athletic Bilbao
Barcelona's Lionel Messi kicks a fault before scoring a goal against Athletic Bilbao

Jamie Holland

LIONEL MESSI smashed in a superb free-kick to complete a 2-1 comeback win for injury-hit Barcelona at home to Athletic Bilbao that kept alive their slim hopes of winning La Liga.

Following a wretched 12 days when they were eliminated from the Champions League by Atletico Madrid, beaten in the King's Cup final by Real Madrid and suffered a shock 1-0 reverse at Granada in La Liga, Barca badly needed a morale-boosting win in front of their fans at the Nou Camp.

After they had squandered a host of chances, Aritz Aduriz fired fourth-placed Bilbao ahead five minutes into the second half, prompting rumblings of discontent among the home faithful.

Pedro levelled in the 72nd minute and Messi struck the winner three minutes later when he drove the ball powerfully into the net, the Argentina forward's 26th goal of an injury-disrupted season. With four matches left, including a trip to Barca on the final day of the season, Atletico top the standings on 85 points after Friday's 2-0 win at home to Elche. Barca are second on 81, two ahead of Real Madrid, who have a game in hand.

Bilbao are a further 17 points behind Real and look well placed to secure a place in Champions League qualifying for next season.

Elsewhere, Benfica clinched their 33rd Portuguese league title by beating bottom side Olhanense 2-0, with two goals by Lima bringing an end to FC Porto's three-year run at the top.

Benfica won their first domestic title since 2009-10 with two rounds to go after striker Lima scored in the 57th and 60th minutes at the Stadium of Light.

Benfica have also reached the final of the Portuguese Cup, and the semi-finals of the Europa League and Portuguese League Cup.

Reuters

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