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La Liga: Messi saves Barcelona in draw, Sociedad wins Basque derby

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Barcelona dropped two points at the Camp Nou but it could have been worse, as Lionel Messi once again was the hero for the Blaugrana.

The star forward scored twice on either side of halftime, first from the penalty spot and the second from outside the box as Barcelona came back to draw Valencia, 2-2 on Saturday afternoon. Messi also took a knock to his thigh, raising doubts on his fitness ahead of Barcelona’s Copa Del Rey semifinal first leg on Wednesday against arch rivals Real Madrid.

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Twice, Valencia made a slow Barcelona backline pay on the counter attack within the game’s first half hour. First, Valencia’s Rodrigo Moreno drove through the middle of the field untouched before laying off a perfectly-weighted pass into the box for Kevin Gameiro to smash home. Then, in the 30th minute, Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto bowled over Daniel Wass in the box, giving up a penalty kick. Dani Parejo stepped up and confidently slotted home to give Valencia the shock 2-0 lead.

It only took five minutes for Barcelona to pull one back. After Nelson Semedo was tripped up in the box, Messi stepped up to the spot and sent Valencia goallkeeper Neto the wrong way to make it 2-1. Messi forced a save from Neto a minute into the second half, and he finally found the net once again around a crowd of defenders in the 64th minute on a curling left-footed strike.

With the draw, Barcelona remains atop the La Liga standings with 50 points, six above Atletico Madrid in second-place, though Atleti has a game-in-hand. Real Madrid is currently 11 points back, with a game-in-hand as well.

Elsewhere in Spain on Saturday, Real Sociedad its second consecutive win over Athletic Bilbao in the Basque derby. Both teams featured new coaches since the last meeting but the result was the same, with Sociedad winning, 2-1, over Bilbao. Mikel Oyarzabal, who scored two goals in the last meeting, scored the opener again for Sociedad, and Willian Jose added a second over the poor Bilbao squad. Raul Garcia turned in a rebound late in the match to make it interesting for Bilbao but they ran out of time.

In Saturday’s late match, relegation-threatened Celta Vigo shocked fourth-place Sevilla with a 1-0 victory. Mexican National Team defender Nestor Araujo helped keep a clean sheet for Celta. Also, Levante and Getafe played to a scoreless draw.

La Liga: With late help from VAR, Atleti rallies to beat Bilbao

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid rallied to defeat Athletic Bilbao 3-2 in the Spanish league on Saturday, with Diego Godin’s winner coming after a video review in second-half stoppage time.

Godin’s last-gasp goal was initially disallowed because of offside, but the call was reversed after the VAR confirmed the defender was in legal position when he headed the ball into the net.

The Atletico captain was playing with a muscle injury and stayed in the match only because Atletico had already made all three substitutions at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

The hosts twice came from behind after a pair of goals by Athletic forward Inaki Williams. Midfielders Thomas Partey and Rodrigo scored for Atletico in the second half.

The dramatic victory moved Atletico one point behind league leader Barcelona, which hosts Real Betis on Sunday. Espanyol can move past Atletico when it visits fourth-place Sevilla on Sunday.

Sixth-place Real Madrid, coming off three straight victories since interim coach Santiago Solari replaced the fired Julen Lopetegui, visits Celta Vigo on Sunday.

Atletico was coming off a convincing 2-0 win against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

The last-minute loss added to a disappointing season for Athletic, which hasn’t won in 11 straight matches and can drop into the relegation zone by the end of the weekend. Its last victory was in August. Since then, the Basque Country club has drawn seven matches and lost four.

Willians’ first goal was an easy tap in after a shot by Mikel San Jose struck the post and bounced in front of the goal line in the 36th. His second came after a fast breakaway in the 64th, entering the area and sending a low shot into the net three minutes after Partey equalized for Atletico with a powerful long-range shot, hitting the upper right corner from more than 25 meters away.

Rodrigo evened the match for the hosts again with a header off a corner in the 80th, scoring his first goal since joining Atletico from Villarreal in the summer.

Godin’s winner came after Partey sent a free kick into the area and Griezmann redirected the ball toward the goal mouth as the Uruguay defender appeared behind the defenders.

Ronaldo scores late to lead Real Madrid draw (video)

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s done it again, because of course he did.

The Real Madrid megastar, 33, redirected a Luka Modric shot in the 87th minute to help Real to a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao at the Bernabeu on Wednesday in the club’s last match before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Bayern Munich.

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Real is three points behind Atletico Madrid, which visits Real Sociedad on Thursday, and 15 points behind still unbeaten Barcelona. The final Clasico of the season is May 6 at the Camp Nou.

Ronaldo continued his bounce back from a slow start to the La Liga season. After scoring only four times in his first 14 matches, CR7 has netted in eight-straight league matches and has 24 goals in total (Add in other competitions, and Ronaldo’s bagged 41 goals in 39 matches).

Police say officer collapsed by himself during fan violence

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MADRID (AP) The riot police officer who died of cardiac arrest during crowd trouble before a Europa League match in Spain collapsed on his own and not in a direct confrontation with fans, authorities said Friday.

Officials in the Basque region of Spain said doctors dismissed the possibility the cardiac arrest was caused by any type of trauma sustained by the officer in fighting that took place before the match between Athletic Bilbao and Russian club Spartak Moscow on Thursday.

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There had been conflicting reports about what caused the officer’s death, with some saying he might have been involved in a struggle with fans or was hit by one of the many objects being thrown during the altercation.

Five people remained detained – three Russian nationals and two Spaniards – following the violent clashes that took place less than four months before the World Cup is held in Russia.

Authorities identified the victim as 51-year-old Inocencio Alonso Garcia and said he “suddenly felt ill in the course of the serious incidents” that took place outside San Mames Stadium in the northern city of Bilbao.

They said the officer was quickly transported from the scene but went into cardiac arrest before arriving at the nearby Basurto hospital. Doctors said they tried to revive him for more than an hour.

Video footage published by local media appeared to show the moment the officer collapsed while standing near the fighting along with other policemen.

Other images of the clashes showed fans hitting each other, and a group of policemen striking a man on the ground after he fell trying to run away.

The officer who died was among the large police force summoned to try to keep order as several hundred Russian fans – many of them considered by local authorities as radical ultras – arrived in the city for the round-of-32 match in Europe’s second-tier club competition.

The trouble erupted as police were escorting Spartak fans into the stadium and a stray group allegedly started igniting fireworks and throwing flares and objects toward Athletic supporters and police officers.

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Police said “violent fans from both clubs” participated in the fighting which spread onto the streets near the stadium located in a central area of Bilbao. Many fans were seen trying to run away from the trouble as fireworks went off all around.

Authorities said they had identified several people before the fighting carrying items that included knives, iron bars, brass knuckles and even bags of stones.

There had been reports of other minor clashes involving Russian fans in Bilbao ahead of Thursday’s match, which Spartak won 2-1. Athletic advanced despite the loss, winning the tie 4-3 on aggregate.

UEFA condemned the violent clashes and said it was in contact with local authorities to obtain more information on the incidents, while Spanish league president Javier Tebas called for action by FIFA and UEFA to halt fan violence.

Bilbao will host matches in the 2020 European Championship. Six years ago, a fan died in the city in clashes after a match between Athletic and German club Schalke.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of seriously injuring a British soccer fan during the European Championship in France two years ago.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Police officer dies after fan violence before Bilbao-Spartak Moscow

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BILBAO, Spain (AP) A Spanish riot police officer died of cardiac arrest after clashes involving Russian soccer fans before a Europa League match on Thursday between hosts Athletic Bilbao and Spartak Moscow, raising concerns less than four months before the World Cup in Russia.

Basque Country authorities in northern Spain said the officer died in hospital after the confrontations outside San Mames Stadium in the city of Bilbao, which will host matches in the 2020 European Championship.

Police also said a Russian man was injured but the extent of his injuries was not immediately disclosed. Five people were arrested – three Russian nationals and two Spaniards.

The identity of the dead officer was not immediately disclosed.

Spartak won the match 2-1 but Athletic advanced 4-3 on aggregate.

Earlier Thursday, German police arrested a Russian suspected of seriously injuring a British soccer fan during the European Championship in France two years ago.

The trouble in Spain erupted ahead of the round-of-32 match in the second-tiered European club competition.

Police were escorting some Spartak fans into the stadium but a stray group allegedly started igniting fireworks and throwing flares and objects toward Athletic supporters and police officers.

The fighting spread onto the streets near the stadium and police struggled to restore order. Many fans were seen trying to run away from the trouble as fireworks exploded all around.

There was concern ahead of the match because of the reported presence of `Ultra’ Russian fans in Bilbao, and a large police force was deployed to try to prevent fan trouble.

Six year ago a fan died in Bilbao in clashes after a match between Athletic and German club Schalke.