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Messi passes 300 Liga goals as Barca extend lead

Thursday, Feb 18, 2016,11:50 IST By metrovaartha A A A

Madrid | Lionel Messi moved past 300 La Liga goals as Barcelona moved six points clear at the top of the table with a 3-1 win at Sporting Gijon.

The five-time World Player of the Year struck either side of Carlos Castro’s well-worked equaliser in a three-goal burst in five first-half minutes. Luis Suarez missed a second-half penalty days after famously converting Messi’s pass from a spot-kick against Celta Vigo, but made amends with a brilliant finish for Barca’s third. Atletico Madrid is Barca’s closest challenger with Real Madrid a further point adrift in third.

In a match dominated by the European champions, it was the hosts who had the first clear opening as Alex Menendez shot just wide from Barca loanee Alen Halilovic’s through ball. Luis Enrique also made five changes, but the star front three of Messi, Suarez and Neymar started after their incredible display in the 6-1 thrashing of Celta at the weekend. Suarez had the first chance to extend his lead as the league’s top scorer from Neymar’s inch-perfect pass, but the Uruguayan fired straight at Ivan Cuellar. Messi broke the deadlock with a deadly accurate drive into the bottom corner from 25 yards to become the first player ever to bring up a triple century of La Liga goals. Yet, the lead only lasted two minutes as a brilliant counter-attack saw Pablo Perez pick out Menendez on the left and his low cross was swept home at the back post by Castro.

Barca promptly responded, though, as Suarez showed great strength to hold the ball up and then lay it off for Messi to fire into the roof of the net with the outside of his left foot.

Barca’s demolition of Celta in the final half an hour on Sunday was lit up by Messi’s decision to pass a penalty into Suarez’s path to complete his hat-trick. And the former Liverpool striker may have regretted not returning the favour as Cuellar dived to his right to save Suarez’s spot-kick after the ‘keeper had brought down Neymar. Barca have now missed eight of their 16 penalties this season. However, Suarez made amends with a much harder opportunity 23 minutes from time when his left-footed effort curled in off the far post for his 40th goal of the season. Arda Turan should have rounded off a 31st consecutive match without defeat for Barca with his first goal for the club, but he tried to square Messi’s brilliant cross to Suarez and the ball flew inches wide.

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