Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Surrounded Messi escapes to score
Comes off bench in 59th minute to display skills
BARCELONA, Spain -- Barcelona conceded a late equalizer to spoil what would have been another heroic effort by Lionel Messi, with the 2-2 result at Athletic Bilbao on Saturday meaning the leaders must wait another week for a chance to clinch the Spanish league title.
With his team trailing 1-0 and limited in its ability to threaten Bilbao's area, Messi went off the bench in the 59th to transform his side and in 10 minutes the visitors were in front.
Messi began by extending his record run of scoring in 20 straight league appearances when he dribbled through a pack of defenders to level in the 67th.
He then set up forward Alexis Sanchez two minutes later, and Barcelona looked set to collect the three points at San Mames until Bilbao's Ander Herrera pounced on a loose ball to shoot just inside the post in the 90th.
Barcelona can win what would be its 22nd league title in the next round against Real Betis.
"We drew at a difficult ground and the title will come when it does because none of these games are easy," said Barcelona assistant Jordi Roura. "Messi is the best and it makes a difference when he is on the pitch."
Barcelona remained 13 points ahead of Real Madrid after the defending champions continued their dominance over Atletico Madrid by rallying for a 2-1 win at Vicente Calderon Stadium.
Messi started on the bench resting his right hamstring that kept him out of the previous three rounds and with Barcelona hosting Bayern Munich on Wednesday needing to overcome a 4-0 deficit to reach the Champions League final.
"Messi is slowly recovering and we hope to have him back to full strength," Roura said. "The more fit he is, the better chance we have to fight back against Bayern."
Messi had looked sluggish in the thrashing at Bayern last Tuesday, but he was electric in Bilbao after coming off the bench.
His goal took his league-leading total to 44 and was his 58th in all competitions this campaign.
Bilbao's up-tempo attack struck first in the 27th when Aritz Aduriz dribbled by Gerard Pique before putting in a low cross for Markel Susaeta to streak in and poke home at the far post.
But everything changed when Messi went on. He showed why he's considered to be the best player in the world with a gorgeous goal.
Bilbao looked to have Messi surrounded and safely in check when he received the ball outside the area.
But seven slick touches, three blinding changes of foot, and he was suddenly through four defenders and slotting the ball into the corner of the net with his favourite left boot.
Not done, Messi momentarily put his team on the cusp of the title -- still needing Atletico to beat Madrid later -- by heading down a cross from Dani Alves to Alexis, who controlled the ball with his chest before turning and rifling it in.
Bilbao, however, didn't despair and a late push paid off when Herrera drove the ball just beyond the reach of goalie Victor Valdez.
-- The Associated Press
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2013 B12
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