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Barcelona wins Spanish league

BARCELONA won the Spanish league title for the first time in three years yesterday.

Barcelona's eight-point advantage became unassailable in the standings when its closest rival Real Madrid lost 3-2 at Villarreal.

Robert Pires, Ruben "Cani" Gracia and Joan Capdevila scored for Villarreal to sentence Madrid to its third straight defeat and leave the team to suffer its first trophyless season since 2005-06. Rafael van der Vaart and Gonzalo Higuain replied for last season's champion.

Barcelona, which plays at Mallorca today, has 86 points with three games left, while Madrid has 78 with two to play.

The 19th title in Barcelona's history was a triumph for 38-year-old coach Pep Guardiola, the club's former midfielder who was in his first season in charge.

The title success completed Barcelona's first domestic double for 11 years. The team won the Copa del Rey last Wednesday.

Guardiola's team plays Manchester United in the Champions League final on May 27 and is aiming to become the first Spanish team to win the three trophies in a single season.

Thousands of Barcelona supporters gathered to celebrate at Canaletes fountain on Las Ramblas, the traditional site for celebrating the club's wins.

Madrid, which had conceded nine goals in its previous two losses, fell behind in the 17th minute when Pires beat goalkeeper Iker Casillas with a looping header from Ariel Ibagaza's left cross.

The visitors leveled at the start of the second half with Van der Vaart scoring from close range from substitute Higuain's pass.

Midfielder Cani restored Villarreal's lead in the 62nd, seizing on a mistake by Fabio Cannavaro in the penalty area and firing home.

Higuain equalized in the 88th from what appeared to be an offside position, only for Capdevila to win the game after Casillas dropped a corner kick.

Madrid's final games are against Mallorca and Osasuna before it turns its attention to selecting a new president in June. Former incumbent Florentine Perez, the only confirmed candidate so far, is expected to make a strong showing.

Villarreal's victory lifted it to fifth place with 59 points, level with fourth-place Valencia.

Also yesterday, third-place Sevilla remained on course for a place in next season's Champions League despite being held to 0-0 by lowly Osasuna.

Osasuna came closest to scoring at its Reyno de Navarra Stadium when left back Miguel Flano's shot from close to the touchline hit the Sevilla crossbar in the 30th minute.

Both teams had a player sent off. Sevilla midfielder Ndri Romaric was ejected in the 81st, with Osasuna central defender Sergio Fernandez following him in injury time.

With two matches to play, Sevilla has 64 points and was five points clear of Valencia. Valencia visits Atletico Madrid today.

Relegation-threatened Osasuna stayed 17th with 37 points.

Elsewhere, a late goal by Ivan "Riki" Sanchez Rico brought Deportivo La Coruna a 1-1 draw against lowly visitors Getafe.

Getafe opened the scoring in the 46th minute through Roberto Soldado's header from David Cortes' cross which took a slight deflection off Deportivo defender Manuel Pablo Garcia. The goal was the former Real Madrid striker's 12th in the league this season.

Riki equalized in the 86th minute when he pounced after Getafe goalkeeper Oscar Ustari spilled a low shot by Andres Guardado.

The draw virtually ended Deportivo's hopes of a Champions League slot next season although the team remains in contention for a place in the Europa League.

Deportivo had 57 points, while Getafe was 14th with 38 points.

Today's other games are: Real Betis vs. Almeria; Espanyol vs. Athletic Bilbao; Numancia vs. Recreativo Huelva; Racing Santander vs. Valladolid; and Sporting Gijon vs. Malaga.


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