Late draw leaves Barcelona seven points behind Real


Madrid : Barcelona threw away a good chance to get closer to Spanish leaders Real Madrid Sunday after being held to a 2-2 draw by Almeria.

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The late setback leaves Barca with 55 points from 28 games, seven points fewer than Real, who lost 1-0 away to lowly Deportivo Coruna Saturday.

Barca allowed supersub Kalu Uche to level for Almeria just four minutes from time, a goal they will surely regret at the end of the season.

The injury-weakened Catalans were trying to play out time with 10 men, defender Gabriel Milito having been sent off 19 minutes from time.

Teenager Bojan Krkic – playing because of injuries to Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi – put Barca ahead in the 17th minute after Almeria keeper Diego Alves had failed to hold a shot from Andres Iniesta.

But Frank Rijkaard’s patched-up team failed to build on their lead, and Almeria were soon pressing for an equalizer. This came in the 33rd minute, when unmarked defender Ruben Pulido headed in a corner.

Barca looked shaky either side of the interval. In the 56th minute, however, Samuel Eto’o put them back ahead by poking in a classy centre from Thierry Henry.

But Almeria, enjoying their best-ever season, refused to lie down and die, especially after Milito picked up his second yellow card.

In the 86th minute, Uche made it 2-2 by heading in another corner, taking advantage of more sloppy Barca marking.

The Catalans have won just four out of their 14 away games this season.

Earlier Sunday, in-form Villarreal consolidated third place with a handy 2-0 home win over lowly Zaragoza.

The comfortable win leaves Villarreal two points behind Barca. Little Nihat Kahveci shot them ahead after just 11 minutes, after picking his way through the flat Zaragoza defence.

Supersub Guiseppe Rossi made it 2-0 in the 65th minute by converting a penalty given for a foul by Juan Paredes on Joan Capdevila.

Villarreal are six points ahead of Atletico Madrid, who reclaimed fourth place with a 3-0 thrashing of bottom team Levante in Sunday’s late match.

Simao Sabrosa headed Atletico into an early lead, then Diego Forlan grabbed centre stage with two handsome goals.

Atletico are now two points ahead of Sevilla and Espanyol, who share fifth place.

Sevilla won 2-1 away to crisis club Valencia Saturday thanks to two more goals from league top scorer Luis Fabiano.

Espanyol, for their part, came from behind to beat Mallorca 2-1 Sunday, with two late goals from Spain striker Luis Garcia.

Racing Santander fall to seventh after losing 2-1 to UEFA Cup heroes Getafe.

Ebi Smolarek gave Santander the lead, only for Getafe to turn the tables with two late goals from Valencia reject Jaime Gavilan.

Sunday’s other early game was a colourless barren draw between relegation battlers Valladolid and Osasuna.

Levante remain rock bottom with just 19 points. Then come Murcia – who crashed 4-2 in Huelva Saturday – on 23. There are four teams tied on 32 points – Huelva, Valladolid, Zaragoz and Betis.

Betis’ home game against Athletic Bilbao Saturday was suspended with 20 minutes remaining, after Bilbao keeper Armando was laid out by a bottle.

Armando needed five stitches in his cheek.

The Betis fans apprehended the culprit and handed him over to the police, but this is unlikely to save the Seville club from a lengthy ground closure.