Soccer-Barca and Villarreal close in on Real at the top

MADRID, Nov 4 (Reuters) A Thierry Henry special and two trademark free kicks from Ronaldinho earned Barcelona a 3-0 win at home to Real Betis that put them within a point of leaders Real Madrid at the top of the Primera Liga today.

Villarreal also closed in on the leaders when they came from two goals down to snatch a dramatic 4-3 win at Atletico Madrid thanks to a late double from substitute Nihat Kahveci.

Real, who lost 2-0 at Sevilla yesterday, lead the table with 25 points from 11 games, one ahead of Barcelona and Villarreal and four clear of Valencia who won 2-0 away at Real Mallorca. Barcelona had come under heavy fire after their laboured performance in a 1-1 midweek draw with Valladolid, but they looked more alert at the Nou Camp today.

Henry, who last week admitted that he was struggling to adapt to Barca's style of play, hit the post early on and then put the Catalans ahead with a goal reminiscent of his Arsenal days.

Midfielder Andres Iniesta hit a sharp first-time ball into the path of the Frenchman who raced past the static back four and poked a low shot under Ricardo without breaking stride.

Ronaldinho made it 2-0 when he curled a magnificent free kick over the wall and past the helpless Ricardo eight minutes after the break and wrapped up with another which crept in at the near post in added time.

ROARING START The match of the day, however, was at the Calderon, where Atletico got off to a roaring start thanks to an early header from centre-back Pablo Ibanez and a superb curling shot from Portugal winger Simao Sabrosa.

Villarreal hit back with two goals before the break, Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi hooking the ball over keeper Leo Franco and centre-back Fabricio Fuentes taking advantage of an error in defence to smash home from close range.

Atletico striker Maxi Rodriguez missed the chance to restore his side's lead when he fluffed a penalty early in the second half but fellow Argentine Sergio Aguero put them 3-2 up when he scored his seventh of the season with a 62nd-minute header.

True to form, however, they let their lead slip once more when substitute Nihat cashed in on another defensive error to clip the ball into the net and the Turkish international completed a dramatic comeback win with an angled strike in the final minute.

At the other end of the table, Italy striker Christian Rigano hit a hat-trick in the space of 34 first-half minutes to earn basement side Levante their first victory of the season with a 3-0 win at home to Almeria.

Despite Rigano's efforts Levante remain anchored to the bottom of the table with just four points from 11 games.


Story first published: Monday, November 5, 2007, 3:02 [IST]
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