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By Mark Elkington
MADRID Jan 24 Lionel Messi scored twice as
leaders Barcelona overcame Numancia 4-1 at the Nou Camp to go
15 points clear at the top of the Primera Liga on Saturday.
Modest Numancia are the only team to have beaten Barca in
the league, winning 1-0 at home on the opening day of the
season, and they made life difficult for their hosts early on.
After the break, however, Messi, twice, Samuel Eto'o and
Thierry Henry all scored as Pep Guardiola's side stepped up a
gear, and they moved to 53 points from 20 games.
Jose Barkero's blistering freekick for the visitors had
made it 2-1 after 61 minutes.
"I congratulate Numancia. Their team knew what they were
doing on the pitch, but Barca are lucky to have good players
who can make a difference in a game, and they delivered the
victory," Guardiola said.
Second-placed Real Madrid host Deportivo Coruna at the
Bernabeu on Sunday, when Sevilla welcome Racing Santander.
Earlier, struggling Osasuna came back to draw 1-1 at
Villarreal with a spirited performance at the Madrigal.
The visitors were rewarded for their ambition when
substitute Dady scored from close range following an error by
Pascal Cygan in the 65th minute, cancelling out Giuseppe
Rossi's stylish first-half opener.
Villarreal remained fifth with 34 points, kept out of the
Champions League places on goal difference by Valencia.
Osasuna climbed off the bottom, drawing level on 14 points
with Real Mallorca but above them on goal difference.
Numancia gave the leaders an early scare when Javier del
Pino headed in at the back post after 18 minutes at the Nou
Camp, but the goal was harshly ruled out for a foul.
The visitors resisted until the 49th minute when Daniel
Alves set up Messi by chipping over his marker and heading a
cross in for his team mate to break the deadlock.
Iniesta threaded through for Eto'o to notch his 19th goal
of the campaign soon after, before Barkero pulled one back, but
it was only a brief respite from Barca's constant pressure.
Henry bagged the third from Messi's run and pass, and the
Argentine made it 4-1 as he squirmed through two defenders and
rounded the keeper to score. Messi was denied his hat-trick
near the end when he hit the crossbar.
By then Numancia were down to 10 men following the 81st
minute dismissal of Cesar Palacios.
(Writing by Mark Elkington, editing by Tony Jimenez/Nick