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Krkic scores twice as Barcelona beats Almeria

BOJAN Krkic scored his first league goals of the season yesterday to give Spanish leader Barcelona a 2-0 win at Almeria that maintained its six-point lead over closest rival Real Madrid.

Krkic, a surprise starting choice ahead of Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry, was perfectly placed in the 53rd minute to receive Lionel Messi's low curler as it came off the post to the left, the teenage striker controlling the ball before slotting home.

He followed up by capping an impressive four-man passing display three minutes later with a shot that deflected off defender Santiago Acasiete past goalkeeper Diego Alves.

Alves had made reaction saves on Seydou Keita and Gerard Pique in the first half but couldn't stop Krkic as Almeria coach Hugo Sanchez lost for the first time in the league at the Juegos Mediterraneos stadium.

The victory gave Barcelona 66 points after 27 games, with Spanish champion Madrid in second place on 60 after winning 5-2 at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday. Madrid put a record Champions League defeat at Liverpool behind it as it chases its third straight title.

The race for Spain's Champions League places was the focus earlier yesterday when European hopefuls met.

Antonio Lopez's 83rd-minute header helped Atletico Madrid rally from a two-goal deficit for a 3-2 victory over 10-man Villarreal to get in reach of the top-four. Third-place Sevilla rallied for a 2-2 draw at Malaga, which missed a chance to settle into the last Champions League place.

Atletico striker Diego Forlan, who had a third-minute penalty saved, equalized with his 19th of the season in the 83rd after Sergio Aguero had begun the rally in the 54th by knocking in a drive from Forlan that had hit the post.

Javi Venta had found Villarreal teammate Matias Fernandez alone in front in the 19th for a goal from a quick counterattack, and goalkeeper Diego Lopez helped at the other end by making a handful of spectacular saves in the first half. Ruben "Cani" Garcia scored Villarreal's second goal in the 53rd before Aguero started the comeback.

Venta was sent off in the 65th, allowing Atletico, which was knocked out of the Champions League on Wednesday, to rally from a two-goal deficit at the Vicente Calderon for the second straight league match after coming from behind to beat Barcelona.

Villarreal stayed in fourth place with 45 points, only two better than Atletico and Malaga, which blew a two-goal lead against Sevilla, which has 51 points.

Salva Ballesta looked to have Malaga on course to reach the top four after scoring two goals in the Andalucian derby, taking advantage of Sevilla's shaky defense. But substitute Diego Perotti's defense splitting pass found Frederic Kanoute in the 74th for the Mali striker to roll under Inaki Goitia for his 12th of the season, and Luis Fabiano headed in his fifth of the season 10 minutes later.

Also yesterday, it was: Sporting Gijon 3, Deportivo La Coruna 2; Racing Santander 5, Numancia 0; Espanyol 3, Mallorca 3; Valladolid 1, Getafe 0; and Real Betis 0, Osasuna 0.

Goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia gifted Luis Moran a rebound from a harmless shot to score in the 50th for Sporting's opener, and the Depotivo 'keeper couldn't save David Barral's penalty three minutes later.

Deportivo scored both of its goals via penalties, but Jose Angel's free kick in-between proved the winner as Deportivo stayed sixth with 42 points for the final European place.

Oscar Serrano scored two goals and set up Nicola Zigic for the first of his pair at El Sardinero stadium, where Peter Luccin's free kick completed Santander's dominant first half.

Numancia stayed in 19th with 23 points to sit five points from safety, a spot currently held by Getafe.

Fabian Canobbio passed off before continuing his run to net an 86th-minute winner for Valladolid, which jumped to ninth after its fourth straight win.

Nene's 84th-minute goal capped 10-man Espanyol's rally from a late two-goal deficit.

Cleber Santana scored in the 60th to put Mallorca ahead 2-1. Jose Callejon also scored, after Juan Arango's first-half opener.

Jose Jurado took advantage of Moises Hurtado's sending off in the 71st before Ivan de la Pena started the rally for last-place Espanyol, which has 22 points, six points from safety with 11 games to play.

On Saturday, 10-man Valencia rallied for a 1-1 draw against Recreativo Huelva.


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