Seville (Spain) (AFP) – Lionel Messi rescued Barcelona’s unbeaten season on Saturday as the La Liga leaders scored twice in the last three minutes to snatch a 2-2 draw at Sevilla.
Messi came off the bench with his team two goals down at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan as Luis Suarez pulled one back in the 88th minute, before the Argentinian struck the equaliser a minute later.
Barcelona had not lost a league game this term, or in 13 months, but finishes from Franco Vazquez and Luis Muriel looked to have sealed Sevilla a stunning victory.
But Messi came up trumps again and he celebrated his goal, a bending long-range strike into the bottom corner, by rushing to the jubilant coaching staff and substitutes on the touchline.
He had been left out of the starting line-up due to a hamstring complaint, with coach Ernesto Valverde perhaps keeping one eye on Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final against Roma.
But he still made the decisive intervention even if Barca’s draw means Atletico Madrid can cut the gap at the top to nine points by beating Deportivo La Coruna at home on Sunday.
Sevilla, meanwhile, are still 13 points adrift of the top four, havng played a game more than Valencia, and must recover in time for their own Champions League clash against Bayern Munich on Tuesday.
They would have been deserving winners here and, in truth, could have been out of sight had Muriel and Vazquez finished any number of dangerous breaks in the second half.
Sevilla were the better side for the opening half an hour and took a deserved lead in the 36th minute when Joaquin Correa shuffled into the area and chipped a cross into Vazquez. He poked a weak finish but it was just enough to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The hosts doubled their lead when Ever Banega’s stinging shot was pushed out too centrally by Ter Stegen, allowing Muriel to take a touch and guide the ball into the corner.
Messi came on for Ousmane Dembele just before the hour mark but Sevilla could have been three up, Jesus Navas missing the best chance as his one-on-one was cleared off the line by Gerard Pique.
They were made to pay the price as Suarez turned in from close range before the ball rolled tantalisingly out to the left foot of Messi, and he drilled it into the corner.
– Bale pushes case –
Earlier, Gareth Bale made a strong case for a starting spot against Juventus by scoring twice in Real Madrid’s 3-0 victory over Las Palmas as Cristiano Ronaldo was rested.
Bale’s double in Gran Canaria served as a timely reminder to coach Zinedine Zidane, with the trip to Turin for the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals to come on Tuesday.
Karim Benzema had doubled Real’s lead before half-time as Los Blancos moved just one point behind second-placed Atletico. Las Palmas stay 18th, seven points adrift of safety.
The only worry for Zidane was the sight of Nacho hobbling off in the first half, with what appeared to be a hamstring problem.
“Everything is positive except one thing, the injury of Nacho,” Zidane said. “He is not happy. It is a concern but hopefully only little and the rest is all good.”
Bale opened the scoring with a trademark run and finish down the left before Benzema converted one penalty and then generously handed over a second, which the Welshman had earned himself.
The question now is whether Zidane was suitably impressed to pick Bale in Italy.
“We will see on Tuesday, I am happy for his performance,” Zidane said.
Girona’s hopes of Europa League qualification took a knock after they were held to a 1-1 draw by struggling Levante. Athletic Bilbao also drew 1-1 at home to Celta Vigo.