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Atletico beats Barcelona 4-3

ATLETICO Madrid rallied from two goals down to beat Barcelona 4-3 yesterday, with Sergio Aguero scoring his second goal in the 89th minute to leave the Spanish leader just four points ahead of second-placed Real Madrid.

Barcelona's run to the title had looked unstoppable at the start of the year after a 22-game unbeaten run had given it a 12 point lead.

But now the Catalan giant is showing uncharacteristic frailty, and it was a defensive error by captain Carles Pujol that allowed Argentina striker Aguero to slot the ball past goalkeeper Victor Valdes to secure Atletico's first win in four meetings with Barcelona this season.

"He was sensational," Atletico coach Abel Resino said of Aguero, who came off after only 55 minutes of a lackluster midweek Champions League draw against FC Porto.

"We're getting better and that's what's important. Never surrender anything."

It was the second straight defeat for Barcelona, which is without a win in four games, but which still tops the table with 60 points.

"We've got to find ourselves again," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "Nobody said it was going to be easy."

Madrid, which beat Espanyol on Saturday for its 10th straight victory, has 56, Sevilla is third with 47 and Villarreal has 42.

Diego Forlan also scored two, his second a penalty in the 80th minute after Thierry Henry was adjudged to have brought down substitute Florent Sinama-Pongolle inside the area.

There were scoring chances as early as the second minute at the Vicente Calderon when Aguero almost chipped Valdes. Two minutes later, Atletico defender John Heitinga appeared to have been wrongly ruled offside after tapping in.

But in the 19th minute, Henry curled a loose ball into the top left corner of the goal with the inside of his right foot. Messi followed that with his 17th goal of the season 12 minutes later after slipping into the Atletico area unmarked to slide a left-footed shot across goal and inside the far post.

Just when Barcelona looked ready to run away with match, Forlan scored with a dipping drive from 25 meters (yards) in the 32nd.

Aguero drew Atletico level with an individual effort ten minutes into the second half before Henry scored his second of the night in the 73rd when Eidur Gudjohnsen set-up the French striker for an easy score after a 2-on-1 break.

Atletico goalkeeper Leo Franco made a fine reaction save in added time from Henry's goalmouth stab to preserve a win which put Atletico back into the Champions League hunt.

Guardiola denied that the fatigue that comes with chasing an elusive treble was catching up with Barcelona, which plays a Copa del Rey semifinal return-leg match at Mallorca on Wednesday while Madrid is off until Saturday's derby against Atletico.

"I don't see the team being tired. We finish every game well, with the intention of winning," the first-year coach said. "In football, there are many factors."

Elsewhere, Villarreal blew a two-goal lead and a chance to stretch out its advantage in fourth place after a 2-2 draw at Real Betis.

Santiago Cazorla's individual efforts yielded both Villarreal scores by the 36th minute before Sergio Garcia started the Betis rally in the 42nd.

Ricardo Oliveira tapped in Mark Gonzalez's volleyed cross goal pass in the 56th to equalize for Betis, which is two points above relegation in 17th.

Villarreal occupies the final Champions League spot over Atletico, Malaga, Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna by three points.

Jonathan Sesma scored early and Raul Albiol's second own-goal in three league games saw Valencia fall 2-1 against Valladolid and fall further out of contention for a Champions League place.

Carlos Marchena headed home in the 74th at the Mestalla stadium.

Juan Rodriguez scored from a sharp angle with 15 minutes to play as Deportivo rallied from Thursday's UEFA Cup exit to join Malaga, Atletico and Valencia in fifth with 39 points. Albert Camunas and Adrian Colunga led Recreativo Huelva to a 2-0 win over Malaga, which played with 10 from the 34th when Manuel Ortiz was red carded.

In yesterday's other 25th round results, it was: Almeria 2, Getafe 1; Racing Santander 1, Osasuna 1; and Sporting Gijon 0, Mallorca 1.

Almeria's Alvaro Negredo scored goals in each half to take his season tally to 15 - two better than all of last year.

At El Sardinero stadium, Santander took an early lead through Oscar Serrano's rising shot from the left before Walter Pandiani drew the visitors level right at the end of the first half with a well-placed header.

Mallorca moved ahead of Osasuna and out of the relegation zone after midfielder Juan Arango struck a free kick over the defensive wall and into the top corner six minutes into the second half.

Mallorca is two points clear of 18th-placed Osasuna, which remains in the relegation zone with 25 points despite being unbeaten in six games. Espanyol and Numancia occupy the two are relegation spots on 21 and 20 points, respectively.

On Saturday, Sevilla beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1.


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