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Messi scores brace as Barca keep pace with Madrid

Spain,Sports, Sun, 15 Apr 2012 IANS

Madrid, April 15 (IANS) FC Barcelona ended four points behind Spanish Primera league leaders Real Madrid after a hard fought 2-1 win away to fifth placed Levante.


Barca needed a fine second half performance from substitute Isaac Cuenca to help them to win, while Lionel Messi scored his side's two goals in a very difficult game.


Barca manager Pep Guardiola rested Andres Iniesta ahead of next week's Champions League semi-final away to Chelsea, but saw his side struggle to find their game against a side that has already beaten Real Madrid this season, Xinhua reported.


Playing on a bumpy pitch did little to help Barca's passing game, Levante were well organized in defence and looked to use their pace on the break.


Pedro Rodriguez and Thiago Alcantara had good chances for Barca before Levante took the lead from the penalty spot. Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes failed to hold a cross and when the ball was fired back into the penalty area, Sergio Busquets instinctively raised his arms to protect himself and committed a clear handball.


Winger Isaac Cuenca replaced Xavi Hernandez at halftime as Barca looked to use the full width of the pitch, but Levante had the first chance of the second half as Barkero failed to take advantage of a great chance to break.


Cuenca played his part in Barca's equalizer, ceding the ball to Alexis Sanchez, who in turn passed to Messi. The diminutive Argentine then scored with a fine curling shot after 66 minutes.


Messi then put Barca ahead after Cuenca won a penalty after being pushed over in the Levante penalty area. Messi fired home his 41st goal of the season to give Levante keeper Mnua no chance.


Former Barca midfielder Xavi Torres almost equalized with virtually the last kick of the game, but Valdes got down to make the save.


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