Barcelona extend lead despite draw in Villarreal

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Barcelona, March 21 (IANS) FC Barcelona edged closer to the La Liga title despite dropping two points on their 2-2 draw against fourth placed Villarreal.

Barcelona’s point coupled with Atletico Madrid’s defeat away to Sporting Gijon saw them open their lead at the top of the table to nine points over their nearest rivals, on Sunday, reports Xinhua.

First-half goals from Ivan Rakitic and a controversial penalty scored by Neymar gave a 2-0 half time lead to the away team. The referee could have sent off Barcelona defender Gerard Pique for two handball offences, but instead expelled Villarreal coach Marcelino Garcia for his protests.

The game changed in the second half when Barcelona coach Luis Enrique decided to substitute Pique for Jeremy Mathieu and Villarreal found new life through a goal by Cedric Bakambu and an unfortunate own goal from Mathieu.

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Atletico Madrid’s title hopes seemed to evaporate on Saturday when Diego Simeone’s side lost 1-2 away to Sporting Gijon.

Atletico took the lead through a brilliant Antoine Griezmann free-kick.

Antonio Sanabria responded with 11 minutes left and Carlos Castro scored with a simple finish three minutes from time to give Sporting a vital win.

Real Madrid beat Sevilla 4-o thanks to goals from Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Jese in a game where both sides missed penalties and Madrid keeper Keylor Navas was the star.

Valencia coach Gary Neville’s future hangs by a threat after his side’s 0-2 home defeat to Celta Vigo, who took the points thanks to late goals from John Guidetti and Hugo Mallo.

Hosts Espanyol beat Athletic Club Bilbao 2-1 with second half goals from Pape Diop and Felipe Caicedo after Javier Eraso had put the visitors ahead before the break.

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A William Jose goal give Las Palmas an important 1-0 win away to Real Sociedad, while Granada and Rayo Vallecano were both still in trouble after a 2-2 draw.

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