MADRID - Andres Iniesta scored a sublime goal and had a hand in three more to inspire Barcelona to a 4-0 humbling of third-placed Sevilla in the Primera Liga on Wednesday. Champions Real Madrid had upped the pressure with a comeback win over Getafe which halved Barca's advantage to three points but Pep Guardiola's side responded in style to move on to 81 with six matches left. Sevilla's third straight defeat left them on 57, two ahead of fourth-placed Valencia who won 2-1 at Real Betis thanks to a clinical double from striker David Villa. Guardiola left Argentine forward Lionel Messi out of his starting line-up at the Nou Camp and gave midfielder Iniesta room to roam in front of Xavi, Yaya Toure and Seydou Keita. He responded by putting Barca in front after three minutes when he surged through the middle and curled a superb shot into the top corner past goalkeeper Javi Varas, standing in for the suspended Andres Palop. Iniesta then exchanged passes with his Spain international colleague Xavi and squared the ball for Primera Liga top scorer Eto'o to drive in his 27th goal of the season off Varas on 17 minutes. Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez brought striker Frederic Kanoute on after the break but the match was effectively over when Iniesta created space on the edge of the area for Xavi to stroke the ball high into the net on 49 minutes. He capped a fabulous individual display five minutes later when he threaded a pass through for Thierry Henry to slide in Barca's fourth and was given a standing ovation when Aleksandr Hleb replaced him on the hour. Another dominant home performance by Barca put them a step closer to a first league title in three years and gave them a boost before their Champions League semi-final first leg against Chelsea on Tuesday. LATE CONSOLATION Unai Emery's Valencia side cemented their hold on the fourth Champions League qualification spot thanks to Villa's 24th and 25th league goals of the season which lifted them to 55 points from 32 matches. Juan Mata's low cross from the left in the 66th minute looked harmless until Villa nipped in front of the Betis defence and diverted the ball between his legs past keeper Ricardo Pereira. The Spain international grabbed his second with just over 10 minutes left after good work from midfielder Edu. Betis, who stayed 10th, scored a late consolation when striker Ricardo de Oliveira smashed home Juanma Gomez's lofted pass from a tight angle. Salva Ballesta scored the winner for promoted Malaga in a 3-2 victory at Osasuna which lifted the Andalusians into fifth on 50 points, above Atletico Madrid and Villarreal who both play on Thursday. Osasuna finished the match in Pamplona with eight players after Patxi Punal, Josetxo and Krisztian Vadocz were sent off and the referee also dismissed Malaga's Jesus Gamez. Deportivo Coruna won 2-0 at home to Almeria thanks to second-half goals from Joan Verdu and Lassad and stayed eighth, level on 49 points with Atletico and Villarreal.
22 April 2009
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