Barcelona end 2015 on a high

Barcelona, Dec 31 (IANS) FC Barcelona closed out a glorious year with a 4-0 win against Real Betis to keep pace with Spanish football club Atletico Madrid, who struggled to beat Rayo Vallecano 2-0 as Cristiano Ronaldo’s double gave Real Madrid a 3-1 victory over Real Sociedad.

The results leave Barcelona and Atletico tied on points at 38, though the Catalan club has a match in hand and sits atop La Liga by virtue of goal difference, and the ‘Blancos’ in second place with 36 points, reports Efe.

Wednesday’s game at Nou Camp was preceded by a celebration of Barcelona’s recent triumph in the Club World Cup in Japan – their fifth title of 2015 – and of Lionel Messi’s 500th appearance with the team.

The contest was fairly even until the half-hour mark when visiting goalkeeper Antonio Adan was cited for a questionable foul on Messi, inciting a protest from Betis coach Pepe Mel that led to his ejection.

While Neymar’s penalty kick hit the crossbar, Betis defender inadvertently put the ball in his own net during a battle with Ivan Rakitic to control the rebound.

Messi made it 2-0 with a goal of his own in the 33rd minute and Luis Suarez got two in the second half to bring Barcelona’s total for the calendar year to 180, surpassing the record of 178 goals set last year by arch rivals Real Madrid.

The Blancos’ clash with Sociedad at the Bernabeu was also not free of controversy.

The home side won a penalty in the 23rd minute after Sociedad’s Yuri Berchiche was – perhaps unjustly – called for a foul on Karim Benzema, but Ronaldo misfired.

The Portuguese international got a chance to redeem himself 19 minutes later when Yuri was penalised for a hand ball. Ronaldo converted to give the Blancos a 1-0 lead at the break.

Real Sociedad, despite losing top-scorer Imanol Agirretxe and Sergio Canales to injury in the first half, kept themselves in the match and Bruma equalised for the visitors with a magnificent strike (49th minute).

Ronaldo scored again off a corner (67th) to reclaim the lead but the Real Madrid faithful remained on pins and needles until Lucas Vazquez made it 3-1 (86th).

In Vallecas, Rayo keeper Yoel Rodriguez held Atletico scoreless until the 88th minute, when Angel Correa scored on a great pass from Thomas Partey.

A perfect ball from Jackson Martinez set up Antoine Griezmann to get the second goal in the final minute of regulation time.

Fourth placed Celta Vigo squandered a chance to gain ground on the top three, losing 0-1 at home to Athletic, who moved up to seventh spot thanks to a goal by Raul Garcia.

The Bilbao side is tied on points with sixth placed Deportivo, who played to a 0-0 draw with Getafe.

Sevilla won 2-0 at home over Espanyol to claim seventh place with 26 points.

Snapping a five-match winless streak, Eibar topped Sporting 2-0 to meet their target of ending 2015 in the top half of the table, sitting in ninth place with 24 points.

Malaga, in 11th spot, logged a 1-0 away triumph against last place Levante while Las Palmas climbed out of the drop zone with a 4-1 rout of Granada.

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