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Messi double earns Barca comeback win at Racing

LIONEL Messi scored two goals after coming on as a second half substitute yesterday as Barcelona rallied for a 2-1 victory against Racing Santander to maintain its 12-point lead in the Spanish league.

Barcelona, which finished the game with only nine players, fell behind to a 56th minute penalty converted by Nicolas Zigic at the El Sardinero stadium.

But Messi scored with his first touch in the 65th minute, slotting home a loose ball at the near post, and the Argentina midfielder then volleyed the winner past goalkeeper Antonio Rodriguez in the 81st for the 5,000th goal in Barcelona's history.

Barcelona, which has won nine straight games in a 20-match unbeaten run, leads with 56 points from 21 games. Real Madrid is second with 44 and Sevilla stayed on 38 after a 1-0 loss to 10-man Sporting Gijon.

"Another three points and another small step forward," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said.

Guardiola will be without defenders Rafael Marquez, Gerard Pique and Daniel Alves for next weekend's league match with Sporting Gijon due to suspensions, with Marquez and Pique both dismissed in the final minutes.

"Against Sporting we'll see what we do. We'll use what we have and look to the second team," Guardiola said.

Raul Gonzalez joined Alfredo di Stefano as Madrid's all-time leading scorer when he struck the winner for the Spanish champion in a 2-0 victory at Numancia on Saturday.

Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop saved Mate Bilic's fifth-minute penalty but was caught out in the 17th by Carmelo Gonzalez's cross, which Diego Castro headed in at the far post.

Roberto Canella was harshly red carded for a tackle on Diego Capel in the 28th, reducing Sporting to 10 men, but goalkeeper Inaki Lafuente made good saves from Jesus Navas and Frederic Kanoute down the stretch as Sporting snapped a three-game losing run and Sevilla slipped to its second straight loss.

Sporting finished without coach Manolo Preciado, who was sent-off in the closing stages for protesting too strongly.

Valencia is fourth with 37 points after beating Almeria 3-2.

Joaquin Sanchez gave Valencia a sixth minute lead but Alvaro Negredo equalised before Spain striker David Villa struck twice for the home team, either side of halftime. The goals moved Villa up to second in the goalscoring charts with 17 _ two behind Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o.

Negredo pulled another goal back for Almeria in the 64th minute but it was not enough to prevent defeat for Hugo Sanchez's side.

Coach Javier Aguirre's job could be on the line after Atletico remained winless in 2009 after a 2-1 loss to Valladolid.

Valladolid went ahead in the 51st through Luis Prieto before Atletico equalized two minutes later, Diego Forlan's errant volley deflecting off Jose Garcia Calvo and into the goal.

But Victor Fernandez's penalty in the 78th meant Atletico are winless in five games.

"We played a bad game and we ended up with a bad result," Aguirre said. "The players know that a good result can give us some motivation moving forward."

In yesterday's other games, it was: Deportivo La Coruna 3, Villarreal 0; Espanyol 1, Recreativo Huelva 1; Real Betis 2, Getafe 2; and Osasuna 1, Mallorca 0.

Sevilla played at Sporting Gijon in yesterday's late game.

Teams observed a minute's silence in honor of former Spanish football federation president Pablo Porta who died on Wednesday.

Barcelona's midfield controlled the game but failed to create chances inside the goal area without Messi.

Santander broke through first from the penalty spot after Marquez was booked for taking down Jonathan Pereiro inside the area and Zigic scored his fourth goal in as many games since joining from Valencia.

Xavi Hernandez headed Thierry Henry's cross off the bar and Messi was there to slot in the rebound five minutes after coming on for Sergio Busquets, and the FIFA Player of the Year runner-up sealed the win with his 16th of the season _ and 25th in all competitions.

Barcelona finished the match with nine players after Marquez _ who returned from injury to replace the injured Carles Puyol _ and Pique both picked up second yellow cards.

Betis nearly lifted some of the pressure off under-fire coach Pacos Chaparro as Juan Manuel Gomez and Mark Gonzalez scored within 10 minutes.

But Getafe striker Ikechukwu Uche took advantage of the extra space after Juan Prados' 33rd-minute sending off to score twice, with Betis goalkeeper Ricardo Soares saving a penalty from Robert Soldado in the 79th.

At El Riazor, Ivan "Riki" Sanchez scored one and set up both of Angel Lafita's goals as Deportivo snapped a five game losing streak in all competitions to go sixth with 33 points, one less than opponent Villarreal which has only two victories in its past 11 league games.

Walter Pandiani's third-minute header allowed Osasuna to switch positions with Mallorca, moving into 18th, in a heated match between two teams battling to avoid relegation that saw three players sent off.

Espanyol also stayed in the drop zone in 19th after Marco Ruben scored an injury-time penalty.

Nicolas Pareja, who scored for Espanyol in the 62nd, couldn't save the spot kick after being forced to replace goalkeeper Carlos Kameni with Espanyol out of substitutions. Kameni was sent-off for taking Ruben down inside the area.

Athletic Bilbao twice rallied from one-goal deficits to beat Malaga 3-2 on Saturday.


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