Iniesta makes scoring return as Barca march
Spanish international midfielder Andres Iniesta marked his comeback from injury with a crucial goal as leaders Barcelona defeated Real Mallorca 3-1 on Saturday to continue where they left off before Christmas.sports Updated: Jan 04, 2009 09:53 IST
Spanish international midfielder Andres Iniesta marked his comeback from injury with a crucial goal as leaders Barcelona defeated Real Mallorca 3-1 on Saturday to continue where they left off before Christmas.
A first victory in 2009 takes Barca 11 points clear of Valencia who moved up to second with a 3-1 triumph over Atletico Madrid.
Spain's Euro 2008 heroes David Villa and David Silva, who grabbed a brace, were the goalscorers for Valencia rendering Diego Forlan's penalty irrelevant.
It was Atletico's first defeat in 16 games in all competitions and champions Real Madrid, a point behind in fifth, can go above their city rivals with a home win against Villarreal on Sunday.
Real are 15 points behind Barca and desperately need maximum points at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Barca had fallen behind to a 15th-minute strike from Aritz Aduriz, but a ninth goal of the season from Thierry Henry and Iniesta's goal turned the game in their favour.
Iniesta, a star of Spain's Euro 2008-winning squad, had been injured since the beginning of November, but came on as a 67th-minute substitute and netted eight miuntes later after a pass from Eidur Gudjohnsen.
Mallorca, struggling above the relegation zone, also had former Liverpool man Josemi sent off late on after Iniesta humiliated him with a neat drag back.
Yaya Toure completed the scoring at the Nou Camp in stoppage time as he evaded two challenges before ramming the ball home.
"Wins like this are worth more than winning 5-0," said Barca coach Pep Guardiola. "Games like this, after the holiday period, are always dangerous. It was hard work but we were patient, kept our discipline and stayed calm."
Guardiola chose to leave Argentine Lionel Messi out of the squad with Tuesday's Kings Cup clash against Atletico Madrid in mind.
Atletico had not lost since mid-October ahead of their trip to Valencia but that sequence was broken at the Mestalla Stadium.
Valencia had the ball in the net twice in the first five minutes, but Villa and Silva saw their efforts ruled out for a foul and an offside respectively.
On 34 minutes Valencia's luck changed when they won a debatable penalty but Villa didn't care converting for his 13th goal of the season.
Silva then scored an opportunist toe-poke and grabbed a third on 69 minutes with a fierce left-footed drive for the goal of the game.
Forlan converted a penalty close to half-time - which Valencia goalkeeper Renan Brito almost saved - but Atletico were outclassed by their rivals.
Earlier Mallorca had been dreaming of becoming the first team to win at Camp Nou in the league when Aduriz scored a great solo goal on the quarter-hour mark.
Aduriz raced clear of two Barca defenders before defeating Victor Valdes with a great chip.
As expected Barca upped the ante with Gudjohnsen hitting the crossbar and Toure having an effort cleared off the line.
Henry provided the equaliser on 31 minutes showing good control with his right foot before dispatching a shot into the corner with his left.
Barca pressed for a second but it didn't come and Guardiola introduced Iniesta, who received a standing ovation, for Alexander Hleb on 67 minutes.
It proved an inspired move as Iniesta netted and Toure scored in the dying seconds to seal the comeback victory.
First Published: Jan 04, 2009 09:52 IST