Espanyol level late with Barcelona
Champions Barcelona conceded a damaging late equaliser against local rivals Espanyol, settling for a 1-1 draw and thus giving Real Madrid a clear advantage in the La Liga title race.
Pep Guardiola's side came into the match six points behind Real following the challengers' win against Granada CF yesterday, but were hoping to cut the gap back to three by beating their neighbours this evening.
They looked on course to do so as Cesc Fabregas gave them a 16th-minute lead, but after failing to build on the opener, Barça, who also had efforts ruled out for handball and offside, conceded the equaliser with less than five minutes to go as Alvaro Vazquez scored a diving header.
Gerard Pique hit the bar with a late effort and Espanyol survived a penalty appeal for handball as Barcelona were left frustrated.
"The championship is very long and there are still plenty of points up for grabs which can be won and lost," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
Espanyol started brightly and in the sixth minute had a great chance to open the scoring. Sergio Garcia clipped over a teasing cross from the left which fellow former Barça youngster Joan Verdu met, only for his close-range header to be superbly saved by a flying Victor Valdes. Verdu stabbed at the rebound, but Gerard Pique made the block.
In the 13th minute, Barcelona had what seemed to be the opening goal ruled out. Espanyol goalkeeper Cristian Alvarez, under pressure dealing with a backpass, side-footed the ball straight to Messi, who squared for Fabregas to score but not without inadvertently handling the ball.
The goal was disallowed and the subsequent booking for Messi was harsh but that was forgotten quickly as Barcelona took the lead. Fabregas was again in the thick of it, heading Dani Alves' cross powerfully at goal and wheeling away in delight as Alvarez failed to make the save.
Espanyol fought back straight away and had plenty of possession with attacking intent. They piled on the pressure late on in the first half as Sergio Garcia led the charge with several direct runs. Barça full-back Alves put the ball in the net shortly before the hour mark but had clearly been offside.
Half-chances came and went as the game became more scrappy and ill-tempered and Barcelona were punished emphatically for their failure to get out of first gear when Alvaro scored the dramatic equaliser in the 86th minute. Full-back Raul Rodriguez whipped in a cross from the right which Koulossa Thievy flicked on from the near post, allowing the onrushing Alvaro to dive and head home the leveller.
The goal spurred Barça back into life and they thought they had scored the winner in added time as Pique smashed a shot against the bar,
Substitute Pedro attempted to hook the rebound home, but Rodriguez's arm got in the way. However, their appeals for a penalty were ignored while Andres Iniesta fired over and in fact it was nearly Espanyol who snatched the win, with Rodriguez glancing a header just over from a stoppage-time corner.