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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

La Liga | Messi sinks Granada in record show

Barcelona: Lionel Messi hit a hat trick to become Barcelona's all-time leading scorer and keep the defending Spanish champions in the title chase with a 5-3 win over Granada on Tuesday.

Less than two weeks after scoring a Champions League record five times, the three-time world player of the year took his career club tally to 234 goals, beating a 57-year-old milestone held by Cesar Rodriguez by two goals.

Messi set up Xavi Hernandez's opener before extending Barcelona's lead in the 17th.

And after Granada surprisingly rallied with two quick goals after halftime, Messi scored twice more to secure the win, recording his eighth hat trick of the season.

"Messi doesn't score goals, he scores incredible goals," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "Messi has entered into the history of the club. I want to thank the entire team for the great game and Messi for his achievement."

Barcelona's sixth consecutive league victory reduced leader Real Madrid's advantage to five points, turning up the pressure on their archrivals to avoid a costly slip at Villarreal on Wednesday that would tighten the title hunt further.

A three-time FIFA player of the year, Messi has 17 goals during a seven-game scoring streak and leads La Liga with 34 goals, two ahead of Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.

The hat trick was Messi's 18th for Barcelona and gave him 154 goals in his last 153 games over three seasons. His six hat tricks in La Liga this season tie the record set by Ronaldo last year.

True to their style, Barcelona dominated possession from the start and soon began toying with the visitors after Xavi put his team ahead four minutes in.

Xavi volleyed in a headed pass from Messi, sending a bouncing shot into the right side of the net as goalkeeper Julio Cesar was caught flatfooted. It was Xavi's 10th goal — the midfielder's previous best scoring haul for a league campaign was seven — and Messi's 10th assist in league play so far this season.

Julio Cesar saved Messi's hard strike shortly after, but could do nothing but look on as Messi made club history in the 17th.

Messi appeared alone on the right flank to slice in Isaac Cuenca's cross with a left-footed volley that hit the far post before settling into the back of the net.

Granada did what they could to hold back Barcelona's attacking waves, and Messi uncharacteristically misfired a low cross from Cuenca with only the keeper to beat at point-blank range at the start of the second half.

Barcelona, however, soon let their guard down, and Granada pulled one back through defender Diego Mainz, who lifted a floating header over keeper Victor Valdes in the 55th.

The contest then briefly swung in the promoted side's favor seven minutes later when Barcelona's Dani Alves fouled forward Dani Benitez on the edge of the area and Siqueira stroked home the penalty to even the score at 2-2.

"Granada found themselves behind by two goals, but then showed they play good football," Guardiola said. "It is a team that not only looks to defend, but also to attack from the flanks, where it has great players."

But just when the nerves at Camp Nou began to show, Messi burst free behind the defense in the 67th, controlled Dani Alves' lobbed pass with one touch, and flipped the ball over Julio Cesar with the next.

Substitute forward Cristian Tello sliced in a rebound of a shot by Messi for Barcelona in the 82nd as the game spiraled to a wild finish.

Dani Alves again passed for Messi to round the goalkeeper and grab his hat trick in the 86th, only to give away a second penalty three minutes later when the Brazil right back handled a ball in the area for Siqueira to score his second spot kick.

Messi matched his best ever league haul of 34 goals in 27 games so far from two seasons ago when he also scored 34 goals, albeit in 35 games.

"Messi is the best because in the most difficult moments the rest of his teammates know that he will step up," Guardiola said.

Barcelona's players wore shirts saying "Fabrice!!! We are behind you." before the game in support of Bolton player Fabrice Muamba, who is recovering from cardiac arrest three days after collapsing on the field during a match.

Earlier on Tuesday Osasuna was held to a 0-0 home draw by Getafe.

Also on Wednesday, it's: Real Sociedad vs. Levante, Valencia vs. Zaragoza, Atletico Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao and Sporting Gijon vs. Mallorca.

On Thursday, it's: Racing Santander vs. Sevilla, Real Betis vs. Espanyol and Malaga vs. Rayo Vallecano.


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