Messi free kick ends Barcelona's nightmare run
By Iain Rogers
MADRID (Reuters) - Lionel Messi smashed in a superb free kick to complete a 2-1 comeback win for injury-hit Barcelona at home to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday that kept alive their slim hopes of a fifth La Liga title in six years.
After a wretched 12 days when they were eliminated from the Champions League by Atletico Madrid, beaten in the King's Cup final by Real Madrid and suffered a shock 1-0 reverse at lowly Granada in La Liga, Barca badly needed a morale-boosting victory in front of their fans at the Nou Camp.
However, after Messi, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez squandered clear scoring opportunities, Aritz Aduriz fired fourth-placed Bilbao ahead five minutes into the second half, prompting rumblings of discontent among the home faithful.
Pedro leveled in the 72nd minute after more chances had gone begging and Messi struck the winner three minutes later when he drove the ball powerfully into the net, the Argentina forward's 26th goal of an injury-disrupted season.
With four matches left including a trip to Barca on the final day of the season, surprise leaders Atletico top the standings on 85 points following Friday's 2-0 home win over Elche.
Barca are second on 81 points, two ahead of Real, who have a game in hand. Bilbao are a further 17 points behind Real and remain well placed to secure a berth in Champions League qualifying for next season.
"We are creating a lot of chances but finding it tough to put them away," Barca center back Javier Mascherano said in an interview with Spanish television broadaster Canal Plus.
"We just have to do things as professionally as possible for the remaining few games," added the Argentine, who made a superb block late on to deny Bilbao substitute Mikel Rico. Continued...