Messi penalty helps Barcelona draw

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Reuters

Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates after he scored a penalty against Valencia during their Spanish first division soccer match at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia.

Madrid - Lionel Messi scored in his 12th consecutive La Liga game to help earn leaders Barcelona a 1-1 draw at Valencia that put them 12 points clear at the top on Sunday.

The World Player of the Year bagged his 34th league goal from the penalty spot just before halftime, after Ever Banega had given the livelier hosts a 33rd-minute lead.

Barca improved in the second half but Victor Valdes had to make a superb point-blank save late on from Roberto Soldado to preserve a point.

Barca moved on to 59 points from 22 games, 12 ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid, who were playing at home to fifth-placed Real Betis in the late game.

Champions Real Madrid are 16 points behind Barca in third after losing 1-0 at lowly Granada on Saturday, when Cristiano Ronaldo headed the game's only goal into his own net.

Valencia's intense pressuring seemed to unsettle Barca, who looked sluggish after Wednesday's King's Cup semi-final first leg at the Bernabeu, which they drew 1-1.

Their aggression paid dividends when Gerard Pique's weak headed clearance fell to Banega in the area and the Argentine midfielder fired a low shot under Valdes.

Barca levelled before the break when Joao Pereira needlessly fouled Pedro in the area, and Messi arrowed a penalty high into the top corner.

Cesc Fabregas fired into the sidenetting after a wonderful through ball from Messi, and Andres Guardado forced a flying save from Valdes but Barca were in the ascendancy.

Substitute David Villa just fired wide of the post as the visitors dominated in the latter stages until Pique was caught in possession in the last minute. Ali Cissokho crossed and Valdes made a sharp double save to keep the scores level.

Earlier, fourth-placed Malaga failed to make the most of Real's slip up when they could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to Real Zaragoza to move on to 36 points.

They had to come from behind after Helder Postiga's 13th-minute volley put the visitors ahead at a sun-drenched Rosaleda.

Young playmaker Isco, who agreed an improved contract with the south-coast club during the week, levelled from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute, and both sides went on to hit the woodwork.

Manuel Pellegrini's side never really had complete control of the game, and there was no fairytale return for Brazilian forward Julio Baptista, who came on as a second-half substitute after some 15 months on the sidelines with injury.

Zaragoza had midfielder Jose Mari sent off for a second bookable offence at the end.

Rayo Vallecano also failed to close on the top sides when they fell 2-1 at improving King's Cup semi-finalists Sevilla.

Ivan Rakitic, who was later sent off, lobbed their opener from 35 yards out, and Alvaro Negredo backheeled a cheeky second after Rayo had levelled from the penalty spot.

Valencia climbed above Rayo into sixth place. - Reuters


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