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The players celebrate the opening goal against Betis / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB

FC Barcelona maintained their title challenge this Saturday in a rollercoaster win against a spirited Betis side fighting to avoid the drop.  The visitors provided plenty of nervous moments for the Camp Nou fans and were even on top times, but two goals from Leo Messi plus a Jordi Figueras own goal were enough to keep pace with  Atlético Madrid at the top of La Liga.  The players can now turn their attentions to the Champions League.

Messi scores from the penalty spot

Despite the many distractions provided by the referendum, FC Barcelona started positively, with danger coming in particular from the right wing pairing of Alves and Alexis.  And it was the Chile international who teased Betis defender Jordi Figueras into bringing him down in the penalty box.  Messi stepped up to left foot the spot kick into the centre of the net.

Busquets steals the show

Barça’s best phase of the match came immediately after the opening goal.   Xavi, through the middle, and Alves down the right were constant threats for the visitors but Betis fought back stubbornly and persisted in their attempts to catch Barça on the break.  They came up against Sergio Busquets in magnificent form.  The midfielder had a superb first half, tackling, spraying out passes and going past opponents in a masterful display of technique and tactical savvy that had the fans chanting his name.

Betis fight back

Betis came out after halftime looking to take the game to Barça, spurred on by their desperate situation in the league.  Xavi hit the woodwork but it proved to usher in a period of sustained Betis pressure.  Manager Gabriel Calderón reaffirmed his team’s ambition by bringing on. Jorge Molina and Rubén Castro to join Leo Baptistao in a three-pronged attack.

An unfortunate own goal by Jordi Figueras – the same player who conceded the penalty against Alexis in the first half – from Adriano’s cross, threw cold water on the Betis fight back.

The game took another twist three minutes later when substitute Rubén Castro made it 2-1 with twenty minutes left to go.

Betis pushed hard for the equaliser but inevitably left space at the back, especially for Neymar. The Brazilian forced Amaya into handling the ball in the area and once again Messi took the spot kick.  Betis keeper Adán guessed correctly but Messi seized on the rebound to make it 3-1.  Job done.

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