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La Liga: Messi bags incredible hat-trick, Villareal earns vital win

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That guy Lionel Messi’s pretty darn good.

Barcleona hammered Real Betis 4-1 behind an utterly stunning hat-trick from Messi to restore its 10-point lead atop the La Liga table.

Messi was fabulous the entire match, completing 51 of 57 passes, including eight of nine inside the penalty area, and created three chances outside of his three goals. He opened the scoring in the 18th minute, depositing a classic free-kick into the top-left corner. Just before halftime, Luis Suarez did wonderful one-on-two work down the middle and fed a charging Messi through the back line for the finish in front of net.

In the 63rd minute, Suarez contributed to the scoreline with a stunning one-on-four breakaway that left three defenders on the ground in his wake before he slotted past Pau Lopez. To finish things off, Messi grabbed his hat-trick in the 85th minute with the best of the bunch, blasting a one-touch left-footed strike from a tight angle that curled up and over Lopez and into the far corner, an absolute beauty fitting of the moment.

The home Real Betis fans saw the brilliance in the accomplishment, so much that they cheered Messi to the point where he gave back the love postgame. “I don’t remember a night like this,” Messi said to beIN Sports after the match. “I’m very grateful for the way the fans responded here.”

Real Valladolid earned all three points in stunning fashion with a 2-1 comeback win with both goals coming in stoppage time. Fabian Orellana put Eibar in front in the 54th minute, but Daniele Verde bagged a penalty in the first minute of added time after a VAR review, and Sergi Guardiola was on hand to earn the win in the 93rd minute winner.

Sevilla scrapped to a 1-0 victory over Espanyol in a game that featured 25 total shots but just six on target split both ways, with both teams finishing down a man. Wissam Ben Yedder scored the game’s only goal, coming from the spot after Mario Hermoso clearly bundled over Andre Silva right on the left edge of the area. The game finished with both Sergi Darder and Juan Soriano receiving red cards after the final whistle to cap off an otherwise dull match.

Meanwhile, Valencia and Getafe played to a 0-0 draw that featured just three total shots on target, allowing Sevilla to climb three points ahead of Valencia in sixth, a point back of fifth-placed Alaves and three behind fourth-placed Getafe.

Finally, Villareal took care of Rayo Vallecano 3-1 with a second-half comeback. The visitors went in front in the 20th minute at El Madrigal, with Mario Suarez producing a fabulous header that picked out the far corner from a good distance out. Yet, in the 50th minute, it all began to go wrong for Rayo as Emiliano Velazquez unluckily deflected a cross right to Karl Toko Ekambi waiting on the doorstep for the finish.

Ekambi picked out his brace just two minutes later on a wonderful feed from Vicente Iborra right through the channel for the one-on-one finish. As the game wore on, Villareal killed things off in the 88th minute via Gerard Moreno thanks to a brilliant long-distance switch by Manuel Morlanes. The win pushed Villareal four points clear of the drop in 17th place, while Rayo Vallecano remained in 19th, two back of Celta Vigo in 18th and seven from safety.

Three hurt in clash between radical fans before Barca vs Rayo

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MADRID (AP) Emergency services say three people were hurt when radical fan groups supporting Barcelona and Rayo Vallecano clashed before a Spanish league match on Saturday.

[ RECAP: Barca comes back to win ]

Emergency services for Madrid say the three were taken from near Vallecas Stadium to a hospital to receive treatment for cuts and bruises.

Barcelona says in a statement it “laments and condemns” the fighting, which was near Rayo’s stadium according to Spanish media reports.

Barcelona says it “reaffirms its commitment to fight against any form of violence in the world of sport and once again puts itself at the disposition of the police and security forces to eliminate these groups.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Amid European interest, Geoff Cameron close to Stoke exit

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USMNT veteran Geoff Cameron is close to leaving Stoke City following their relegation from the Premier League last season.

Cameron, 33, hasn’t featured for Stoke this season in the second tier. He missed the season opener at Leeds United due to flying home to the USA to be with his father who suffered a stroke, and he wasn’t included in Gary Rowett’s 18-man squad for their 1-1 home draw against Brentford on Saturday.

Pro Soccer Talk understands Cameron is getting plenty of interest from elsewhere in Europe and has a $9.5 million buyout clause in his contract. We understand Cameron has been eager to move on since the end of last season when the Potters were relegated from the Premier League, but is relaxed about the situation with a few weeks of the transfer window to go outside of the Premier League in England and across most of Europe.

A report from the Daily Telegraph stated that Cameron, Charlie Adam, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Giannelli Imbula are all allowed to leave before the end of the transfer window for Football League clubs which is on August 31.

Pro Soccer Talk understands that clubs from Spain, Germany and Scandinavia want to sign Cameron with Odense BK in Denmark, Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga and Rayo Vallecano in La Liga potential destinations for the holding midfielder, who can also play at center back and right back.

Cameron has spent the past six seasons in the Premier League at Stoke and was a regular under both Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes. He joined Stoke from the Houston Dynamo in 2012 after becoming an MLS All-Star and reaching an MLS Cup final during his five years in the league.

The versatile Massachusetts native has made 55 appearances for the U.S. national team as he played a starring role at the 2014 World Cup.

Cameron had previously been linked with a move back to MLS with the LA Galaxy, but the contract offer wasn’t deemed to be viable.

Rayo Vallecano win promotion back to La Liga

Photo credit: Rayo Vallecano / @RayoVallecano
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MADRID (AP) Rayo Vallecano earned promotion to Spain’s top division after beating Lugo 1-0 in a second-tier league game on Sunday.

Alex Moreno’s goal for the hosts in the 40th minute sealed Rayo’s return to La Liga after two seasons away.

Huesca had already secured promotion last weekend with a 2-0 victory at Lugo.

The third team to move up will be the winner of a two-round playoff between the four teams that finish the season from third to sixth.

Malaga, Las Palmas and Deportivo La Coruna were all relegated from the top flight this season.

La Liga investigating possible match fixing after Rayo Vallecano loss

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La Liga has opened an investigation into possible match fixing after Rayo Vallecano’s loss to Real Socieded last weekend.

Rayo lost the match 2-1, who now sit 19th on the table with their survival hopes in the hands of other clubs.

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La Liga president Javier Tebas said “abnormal” betting activity led to the investigation, while newspaper reports out of Spain have accused Rayo players of throwing the match.

The Madrid club has denied any wrongdoing and released the following statement refuting the reports.

In no instance will we allow the honour, integrity and professionalism of all members of our squad to be doubted, nor will we allow these reports to stain the good name of the club, the players or the fans.