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Messi leads Barcelona to 1-0 win over Getafe

LIONEL Messi's 20th league goal gave Barcelona a 1-0 victory at Getafe yesterday while Real Madrid beat Recreativo Huelva 1-0 to keep pace with the Spanish leader.

Messi held off Cata Diaz's challenge in the 19th minute to receive a pass in front of goal before moving past two defenders to shoot through the defense, with the ball taking a deflection past goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic. It was the Argentina winger's 33rd goal in all competitions this season.

Stojkovic kept Getafe in the contest with a handful of acrobatic stops, including from Messi and Thierry Henry, but the relegation-threatened club could only muster one shot on goal in the pouring rain.

Barcelona's sixth straight win improved it to 78 points - six better than Madrid - as it tries to snap a three-year trophyless drought.

"I feel calm going into the last month and half of the season seeing how the team is playing," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said.

Madrid coach Juande Ramos stretched his league unbeaten streak to 16 games - with 15 victories - after Marcelo's 49th-minute goal gave the defending champion its seventh straight road win to match its best streak since the 1961-62 season.

The Brazil international sped ahead of his marker to receive Fernando Gago's through ball before sending his low shot past goalkeeper Asier Riesgo and inside near post.

"We're doing our job, all we can do is hope that they (Barcelona) drop one or two games at least," Marcelo said.

With only seven rounds remaining, Madrid will host Barcelona in two weeks.

Atletico Madrid maintained its hopes of finishing in the top four and earning a spot in next season's Champions League with a 3-0 win against second-bottom Numancia.

Ever Banega, Diego Forlan and Sabrosa Simao scored second-half goals at the Vicente Calderon stadium for Atletico to tie fourth-place Valencia with 49 points. Valencia plays Sevilla, which is third with 57 points, today.

In yesterday's other matches, Malaga rallied for a 1-1 draw against Mallorca to pick up a point in its chase for a top-four finish while Deportivo La Coruna scored late to beat Athletic Bilbao 1-0 and maintain its own European hopes.

Sixth-place Villarreal has 48 points ahead of its match against Valladolid today, Malaga has 47 and Deportivo has 46.

At the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, Stojkovic showed he would be tough to beat five minutes in as the Serbia goalkeeper flung himself across goal to deny Henry with the France striker shooting on an open net.

His Barcelona counterpart was barely tested as the visitors pressed on and, soon after Samuel Eto'o headed a clear chance wide, Stojkovic again dove to his right in the 26th to keep out Gerard Pique's volleyed bicycle kick.

Two minutes later, Stojkovic got down to stop Henry's low shot before Messi saw his curling shot twoard the top corner somehow tipped out by Stojkovic in the 41st.

Neither team produced much offensively in the second half amid heavy rain, as the Catalan club looked happy to protect its lead.

Messi tapped in the rebound from Seydou Keita's shot in the 81st but the referee whistled for offsides. Eto'o hit the post in the 90th from a clear break set up by Messi.

At Recreativo's Nuevo Colombino stadium, Arjen Robben tested Riesgo with quick shots off dangerous runs in both halves.

Iker Casillas was equally up to the task in the 24th, stretching to keep Sisino Gonzalez's shot out at the near post.

Raul Gonzalez guided Marcelo's centering shot on goal but off the near post in the 34th and Sergio Ramos couldn't handle the rebound.

Riesgo got a hand out to save Robben's clear run into the area in the 73rd before Recreativo finally tested Casillas again in the 78th, as he dove to stop Adrian Colunga's dangerous shot. Colunga volleyed over goal in the closing moments.

Recreativo's fourth straight defeat left it 18th and in the relegation zone with 30 points - three behind Sporting Gijon, which has a game in hand.

At the Rosaleda stadium, Juan Arango equalized for Mallorca seven minutes after Antonio "Apono" Galdeano took advantage of a short clearance and volleyed from outside the area beyond goalkeeper German Lux in the 53rd.

The visitors were unlucky not to go into the break with a goal after Mallorca striker Chori Castro hit the crossbar with a shot from the left.

At the San Mames stadium, Pablo Alvarez's 86th-minute shot deflected off a defender to land in goal and leave Athletic at the bottom of the standings.

In today's other games, it's: Almeria vs. Osasuna; Espanyol vs. Racing Santander; and Real Betis vs. Sporting Gijon.


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