Iniesta-inspired Barca defeat Recre

MADRID - A first-minute strike from Andres Iniesta and a Nasief Morris own goal gave Barcelona a 2-0 win over Recreativo Huelva on Saturday, a fifth straight victory that stretches their lead over Real Madrid to nine points. Barca move to 75 points with eight matches left, while second-placed Real, who host Real Valladolid on Sunday, are on 66. Sevilla, in third, are nine behind champions Real and play at home to struggling Getafe on Sunday. Barca coach Pep Guardiola left midfielder Xavi, Primera Liga top scorer Samuel Eto'o and captain Carles Puyol out of the starting line-up following Wednesday's 4-0 thrashing of Bayern Munich in their Champions League quarter-final first leg. Thierry Henry was in his usual position on the left wing and it was his surging run that created the opening goal in the first minute, Iniesta sidefooting the Frenchman's low cross past stranded Recre goalkeeper Asier Riesgo. Sebastian Nayar had a chance to put relegation-threatened Recre level shortly after but his close-range shot was smothered by Riesgo's opposite number Victor Valdes. South African defender Morris cleared a Lionel Messi shot off the line and Henry had an effort ruled out for offside before the home side doubled their lead on 68 minutes when Iniesta's attempted cross ricocheted in off Morris. "A BIT UGLY" Guardiola said the victory had been "a bit ugly" and his side had lacked the rhythm that helped them humble Bayern and virtually assure their place in the Champions League last four ahead of Tuesday's second leg in Munich. "But these are the kind of wins that are really important," the former Spain and Barca midfielder told a news conference. "There are eight matches left and we are one step closer." Messi suffered a rare failure from the penalty spot in the 81st minute when Riesgo saved the Argentine's low effort after Jose Manuel Casado had handled a Daniel Alves cross. Villarreal, in fourth, missed a chance to cut the nine-point gap to Sevilla when they lost 2-0 at home to Malaga later on Saturday, a third defeat in four domestic matches for the Champions League quarter-finalists. Goalkeeper Diego Lopez got a hand to Duda's 38th-minute strike but the ball bounced in off the right-hand post to give the visitors the lead. Eliseu made sure of the points when he finished off a swift break with around five minutes left and Malaga moved into sixth above Atletico Madrid and Deportivo Coruna, who play each other in Sunday's late match. Valencia can claim the fourth Champions League spot from Villarreal with a win at Sporting Gijon on Sunday.