Club rolls to third-straight championship
BARCELONA (AP) ― Barcelona players sprayed each other with bubbly and fans celebrated by lighting flares.
A title that had appeared inevitable for weeks finally was clinched with two games to spare when Barcelona tied 1-1 at Levante on Wednesday night to win Spain’s La Liga for the third straight season.
“We have been very united this year. That has been very hard because we were up against a tough rival in Real Madrid,” Barcelona star Lionel Messi said. “Now, it is time to enjoy it.”
Seydou Keita headed in Xavi Hernandez’s pass to put Barcelona ahead in the 28th minute, but Felipe Caicedo tied the score in the 40th after Gerard Pique flubbed an attempted clearance.
Barcelona (29-2-5) won the league for the 21st time in its 111-year history and fifth time in seven seasons. The Blaugrana took a six-point lead and holds the tiebreaker over Real Madrid (27-4-5), which is assured of its third straight second-place finish. Real has won a record 31 La Liga titles
Barcelona, which no longer can become the first team in Spain to reach 100 points, also clinched the 2005 title at Ciutat de Valencia stadium. Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes remain from that team.
Barcelona players celebrate after winning the Spanish league title. (AP-Yonhap News)
“Without these players, Barcelona hegemony would not be possible,” said Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola, who became the first coach to win three Spanish league titles in his first three seasons. “They have worked hard every day, and the titles are the result.”
Barcelona’s recent success also includes two Champions League trophies, one Club World Cup and a Copa del Rey. The Blaugrana now turns their attention to the Champions League final against Manchester United on May 28 at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Defender Eric Abidal made his first start since surgery on March 17 to remove a liver tumor. He had appeared as a late substitute in the previous two games.
Barcelona started Keita and Ibrahim Afellay over regulars Iniesta and Pedro Rodriguez and rested Puyol, starting Javier Mascherano in central defense.
Messi made a spectacular effort to wiggle through four Levante defenders in the 58th, but his stab was denied by the post. Messi shimmied past a trio of defenders in the 72nd and was just side.
Barcelona spent the last 10 minutes passing the ball back as visiting fans cheered “Champions! Champions!” in the stands.
“It is not usual that a team wins a league as competitive as this one for three straight years,” Mascherano said. “That shows the hunger this team has.”
Defending champion Inter Milan advanced to the Italian Cup final against Palermo on May 29 with a 1-1 draw against Roma, winning the home-and-home series on 2-1 aggregate.
Samuel Eto’o scored in the 58th minute, his 34th goal of the season but just his second since March 15. Marco Borriello tied it in the 84th.
The cup is the last of three trophies Inter won last season that it still has a chance to retain. Inter captain Javier Zanetti played his 1,000th competitive match as a professional and received a trophy to mark the occasion.
Defending champion Marseille (18-6-11) defeated visiting Brest 3-0 on goals by Loic Remy, Jordan Ayew and Gabriel Heinze to remain four points behind Lille (19-4-12) in the French league with three games remaining.
Auxerre won 4-0 against third-place Lyon, which leads fourth-place Paris Saint-Germain by one point for the final Champions League berth.