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Barcelona cruises to 6-2 win over Real Madrid

THIERRY Henry and Lionel Messi scored twice each as Barcelona dismantled archrival Real Madrid 6-2 yesterday, putting it on the verge of a first Spanish league title in three years.

Barcelona leads Madrid by seven points with four games to play after a victory that may well have decided the title race.

"We're very proud, we took a big step, enormous," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola after his club matched the previous highest total of 85 points in a season. "We wanted to kill it, to kill the league here."

Madrid saw an 18-match unbeaten run - which included 16 victories - snapped after its first defeat since a 2-0 loss to Barcelona at Camp Nou in December.

"We've lost a lot of hope in the league chase," Madrid coach Juande Ramos said.

Gonzalo Higuain headed Madrid into the lead after 14 minutes, but it was all Barcelona from then on.

Henry equalized four minute later, and Carles Puyol gave Barcelona the lead with a header in the 20th. Messi added the third, beating Iker Casillas in the 36th from a Madrid turnover.

Sergio Ramos gave the two-time defending champions hope in the 56th, but Henry, Messi and Gerard Pique sealed the "clasico" to give Barcelona the most goals it has ever scored at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

"We showed we deserve to be champions," Messi said. "We were superior."

Barcelona, whose last silverware was a Champions League-league double in 2006, was also likely to have boosted its confidence ahead of Wednesday's Champions League semifinal at Chelsea. The teams drew 0-0 in the first leg.

Casillas single-handedly kept Madrid within touch as the Spanish international made a handful of spectacular saves, including on Xavi Hernandez after just 30 seconds.

Madrid had the 80,000 spectators cheering after Ramos broke past Eric Abidal to cross into the area from the right, with Higuain clear to score his 19th goal of the season.

But Madrid couldn't keep Barcelona's high-powered offense at bay, and Messi lofted a perfect pass over Ramos in the 18th for Henry to move free on goal along the right before sliding the ball past Casillas.

"After 0-1 we got the ball back and went straight out to score," Guardiola said. "That was the tonic."

Fabio Cannavaro then fouled Henry along the goal line moments later, and Puyol was unmarked in front of the six-yard(meter) box to head home Xavi's free kick for his first goal of the season.

Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes was equally up to the challenge as he kicked out an effort from Arjen Robben in the 22nd and prevented Daniel Alves from scoring an own-goal by stopping the ball on the goal line.

Casillas stopped Samuel Eto'o's rising shot in the 27th and twice denied Messi before the winger finally broke through in the 36th.

Xavi poked the ball away from Lassana Diarra and Messi jumped on the loose ball to go clear on goal, picking his spot to flick a left-footed roller past Casillas and inside the far post.

"Pep did something that was tactically incredible tonight, putting Messi in the center forward's role where we knew their center backs would have trouble getting out," Eto'o said.

Barcelona maintained control of the tempo in the second half, but again looked shaky on set plays as Ramos was clear to head in Robben's free kick at the far post to give the crowd hopes of a rally.

But Henry re-established the two-goal cushion two minutes later.

The France striker beat the offside trap and reached Xavi's through ball ahead of a charging Casillas well outside the area to volley past the Madrid keeper into an empty goal.

Messi scored his 23rd of the season in the 75th after Xavi put him clear on goal to score with a shot inside the near post.

Pique completed the rout after he swiveled to send his own rebound past Casillas from a tight angle in the 83rd, capping Barcelona's most decisive win at Bernabeu since Johann Cruyff led the Catalan club to a 5-0 win here 35 years ago.

Elsewhere, Luis Fabiano and Fredreric Kanoute scored in the second half as Sevilla snapped a four-game losing streak with a 2-0 win at Villarreal.

Sevilla is third with 60 points, Valencia has 56 and Villarreal 55.

Numancia moved out of last place thanks to a 2-0 victory over Malaga, which saw its European qualification hopes take a dive thanks to goals from Juan Carlos Moreno and Javier Del Pino.

In the other 34th round of games today, it's: Mallorca vs. Getafe; Osasuna vs. Recreativo Huelva; Deportivo La Coruna vs. Valladolid; Racing Santander vs. Almeria; Sporting vs. Athletic Bilbao; Real Betis vs. Atletico Madrid; and Espanyol vs. Valencia.


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