Villarreal prevent champions from making it a perfect eight wins at Nou Camp
MADRID: Barcelona dropped their first home points of the season on Saturday in a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Villarreal as the Spanish league season resumed after its winter break.
Pedro put Barca ahead after just seven minutes but David Fuster equalised five minutes after the break to prevent the champions from making it a perfect eight wins at Nou Camp.
Real Madrid, three points behind in second, could now move level on points with victory at Osasuna yesterday.
“We are having a good season and have to continue what we are doing,” said Barca captain Carles Puyol.
“We didn’t get the three points but we were up against one of the best teams in the league. We have to rest now because we have another game very soon.”
Barcelona host Sevilla tomorrow in the first leg of the Kings Cup last 16.
The Kings Cup was one of six trophies Barca won in 2009 and they presented their silverware to the Camp Nou fans in a pre-match ceremony.
The players were also given a guard of honour by Villarreal before kick-off.
Barcelona rested Lionel Messi while Andres Iniesta started on the bench as he came back from injury but the celebrations continued as Pedro netted the opening goal.
Thierry Henry hammered a spectacular volley against the crossbar and the ball fell to Pedro who controlled brilliantly on his chest and drilled home.
Villarreal refused to be rattled by the early goal and in the 27th minute came within inches of equalising with Cani’s cross finding the onrushing Fuster who was unlucky as his downward header looped over the bar.
Close to the interval Alves whipped in another brilliant cross but the lively Henry could not head in as Diego Lopez did enough to put him off.
Minutes into the second half Barca midfielder Sergi Busquets lost the ball and Fuster fired wide. It was a good chance but Barca did not heed the warning and a minute later Villarreal equalised.
Cani floated in a 50th minute cross and Fuster produced a controlled finish at the back post to stun the hosts.
Substitute Iniesta and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had chances for Barcelona while Giuseppe Rossi had a shot cleared off the line by Puyol two minutes from time. Sevilla failed to reclaim third place from Valencia following a 2-1 defeat at Atletico Madrid.
Brazilian Renato headed Sevilla ahead on 44 minutes but a disastrous own goal from Ivica Dragutinovic three minutes after the break helped Atletico draw level.
Sevilla had Argentine Aldo Duscher sent off for a malicious challenge and Atletico captain Antonio Lopez scored a last minute header to win the game.
Valencia now lead Sevilla by two points while Atletico move five points clear of the relegation zone with a morale-boosting win.
Serbian substitute Nikola Zigic scored a stoppage time winner as Valencia defeated Espanyol 1-0.
The giant Zigic came off the bench on 63 minutes and headed in the winner from a great cross from Joaquin in the second minute of injury time.
Valencia were without David Silva and Pablo Hernandez due to injury so the attacking onus fell on Spanish international David Villa.
Villa, the league’s top-scorer with 12 goals, had a personal duel with Espanyol goalkeeper Carlos Kameni who twice denied him in the second half.
Espanyol had not won away in the league since mid-September and it showed as they clung on although Luis Garcia had a chance to put his side ahead in the final quarter of an hour.
When Villa finally beat Kameni he was denied by the post with his header hitting the woodwork on 76 minutes as Valencia’s frustrations continued.
It looked like Valencia would drop more valuable points at home – something that has been their problem so far – but Zigic sealed a late win and tore off his shirt to celebrate.
“We have been on the receiving end of late goals against Sporting (Gijon), Atletico (Madrid), and (Real) Mallorca so this is really good for us,” said Valencia coach Unai Emery. — AFP