Messi hat trick helps Barca to win at Madrid
By Paul Logothetis ,AP
March 25, 2014, 12:18 am TWN
MADRID -- Lionel Messi scored a hat trick to give Barcelona a 4-3 win at 10-man Real Madrid in an electrifying and contentious "clasico" match that kept the three-way Spanish league title race wide open.
The result means Atletico Madrid now tops the table, with Madrid level on points in second and Barcelona a point behind in third with nine games remaining as the title race shapes up to be the closest in years.
In a game that saw three penalties, a red card and a host of missed chances, Andres Iniesta set the tone by rocketing home an early opener, only for Karim Benzema's brace to put the hosts ahead by the 24th.
The teams went into the break level at 2-2 after Messi slotted in an equalizer, only for Cristiano Ronaldo to re-establish Madrid's lead with a 55th-minute penalty.
But Messi scored a pair of penalties after that — including the 65th-minute equalizer after Sergio Ramos was sent off — to end Madrid's 31-game unbeaten run stretching back to the last "clasico" in October.
"It's unusual to see so many penalties called in a clasico," Barcelona fullback Jordi Alba said. "This win will give us a lot of momentum going forward."
While Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti tried to defuse tension surrounding the three penalties, Ronaldo did not.
"I don't want to say the referee favored one team more than the other, but he favored Barca a little more," Ronaldo said.
Earlier, Diego Costa's 23rd goal followed Gabi Fernandez's opener as Atletico beat 10-man Real Betis 2-0 and now leads Madrid on head-to-head with the city rivals level on 70 points. Barcelona is on 69 points.
"Right up until the last game this league is wide open," Ancelotti said. "Any of these last nine games can prove decisive."
The high pace of play and buzzing atmosphere inside the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium left little doubt this was a "clasico" with much at stake.