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Atletico wins to stay top, Messi keeps Barca 2nd

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm •  Published: April 5, 2014

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Atletico Madrid sweated out a 1-0 victory over Villarreal without leading scorer Diego Costa to stay top of the Spanish league on Saturday, while Lionel Messi scored two goals in Barcelona's 3-1 win over Real Betis to stay one point behind.

Gareth Bale's long-range goal helped make sure Real Madrid didn't miss star Cristiano Ronaldo as it cruised to a 4-0 victory at Real Sociedad, staying within three points of the pacesetters in third place.

Messi converted a 14th-minute penalty and followed up a second spot kick that was blocked by goalkeeper Adan Garrido to seal the victory in the 86th.

Messi recorded his 24th and 25th league goals of the season — pulling him level with Diego Costa as the league's second-leading scorers behind Ronaldo's 28 — but Barcelona again showed problems in defense that last-placed Betis failed to fully exploit.

Earlier, Atletico's Raul Garcia scored in the 14th and Diego Simeone's side held out to deny Villarreal in the second half as it stayed undefeated at its Vicente Calderon stadium through 17 league games this season.

"We didn't have the strength and energy that we have had on other days," said Simeone. "But my team played smart, and when you play smart you make up for the lack of energy to pull out the win."

Atletico hopes Diego Costa will recover from a right thigh injury for Wednesday's Champions League quarterfinal with Barcelona after they drew 1-1 in the first leg.

Atletico then has six games left as it tries to claim its first league title since 1996.

While David Villa was ineffective before being substituted with half an hour to play, Garcia again proved his value to Atletico as a versatile attacking midfielder by pushing aside his marker to head in Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion's corner kick.

Also, Rayo Vallecano won 3-0 at home over Celta Vigo to get its fifth win in seven rounds and move six points from the relegation zone.

Barcelona unfurled a banner in the Camp Nou stands before the match that read "Hands Off La Masia," referring to FIFA's one-year transfer ban after football's governing body found the Catalan club guilty of breaching regulations in signing youth players for its renowned training academy. Barcelona club president Josep Bartomeu also said that he had a "friendly and cordial conversation" with FIFA president Joseph Blatter about the ban.

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