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Iniesta hits early target for Barcelona

A FIRST-MINUTE strike from Andres Iniesta and a Nasief Morris own-goal gave Barcelona a 2-0 win over Recreativo Huelva on Saturday, a fifth straight victory that stretches its lead over Real Madrid to nine points.

Barcelona move to 75 points with eight matches left, while second-placed Real, which was hosting Valladolid yesterday, is on 66. Sevilla, in third, is nine behind champion Real and plays at home to struggling Getafe.

In a late game, Malaga gained ground on fourth-place Villarreal thanks to a 2-0 victory that proved costly for Villarreal, which lost influential midfielder Marcos Senna to a leg injury in the 80th minute and who will miss the Champions League clash at Arsenal.

Barca coach Pep Guardiola left midfielder Xavi, Primera Liga top scorer Samuel Eto'o and captain Carles Puyol out of the starting line-up following Wednesday's 4-0 thrashing of Bayern Munich in their Champions League quarterfinal first leg.

Thierry Henry was in his usual position on the left wing and it was his surging run that created the opening goal in the first minute, Iniesta side-footing the Frenchman's low cross past stranded Recre goalkeeper Asier Riesgo.

Close-range shot

Sebastian Nayar had a chance to put relegation-threatened Recre level shortly after but his close-range shot was smothered by Riesgo's opposite number Victor Valdes.

South African defender Morris cleared a Lionel Messi shot off the line and Henry had an effort ruled out for offside before the home side doubled its lead on 68 minutes when Iniesta's attempted cross ricocheted in off Morris.

Guardiola said the victory had been "a bit ugly" and his side had lacked the rhythm that helped it humble Bayern.

"But these are the kind of wins that are really important," the former Spain and Barcelona midfielder said. "There are eight matches left and we are one step closer."

Messi suffered a rare failure from the penalty spot in the 81st when Riesgo saved the Argentine's low effort after Jose Manuel Casado had handled a Daniel Alves cross.

Valencia can claim the fourth Champions League spot from Villarreal with a win at Sporting Gijon yesterday.


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