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Real keeps pace with Barcelona in Spain

LIONEL Messi's 20th league goal gave Barcelona a 1-0 victory at Getafe on Saturday 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 trophy-less 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.

Sped ahead

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 the 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, on Sunday.

In Saturday'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.


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