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Messi puts Barca top, Real held

20 August 2012, 11:38

Spain - Barcelona became the first league leaders of the new Spanish season on Sunday by caning hapless Real Sociedad 5-1, with two goals from FIFA World Player Lionel Messi.

Earlier on Sunday, Real Madrid made a luckless start, being held 1-1 at home by dogged Valencia.

Barca turned in a sharp first half performance against Sociedad, to the delight of new coach Tito Vilanova.

Veteran captain Carles Puyol - who missed Euro 2012 through injury -opened the scoring by heading in a corner from Xavi after just four minutes.

Gonzalo Castro levelled for Sociedad just five minutes later with a powerful left-foot drive, but then Messi turned the game around with two quickfire goals from his trusty left foot.

Pedro made it 4-1 for Barca, then David Villa sent the Camp Nou wild by coming off the bench and scoring with practically his first touch.

Villa had been out of action for nine months with a broken leg and, the same as Puyol, missed Euro 2012.

Afterwards, a delighted Messi said: "This season we want to win everything. We know that will be difficult, but we are going to try ... We have the same confidence as always."

Messi added that "the most important thing tonight" was the return of Villa. "Last season we missed him a lot. He is very important in this team."

Earlier in the evening, a luckless Real Madrid had to settle for a disappointing draw against Valencia.

Gonzalo Higuain gave the whites an early lead only for Brazilian forward Jonas to level for Valencia. Real were then kept at bay by outstanding Valencia keeper Diego Alves - and by the woodwork.

Higuain, given the nod in attack ahead of France's Karim Benzema, put Real ahead in the 10th minute after being played through by Angel di Maria. Alves managed to keep out Higuain's first two shots but failed to hold the ball - and the Argentine bundled the ball home at the third time of asking.

Valencia's equalizer came four minutes before halftime, when Jonas headed in a clever free-kick from Tino Costa. Real keeper Iker Casillas collided with defender Pepe during the move, and Pepe had to be substituted due to concussion.

Higuain hit the Valencia crossbar in the 65th minute with a powerful header, then Alves took centre stage with a series of spectacular saves.

Real coach Jose Mourinho said: "I was expecting more from my team ... We did not play a great match, but we did do enough to win."

For his part, Mauricio Pellegrino - making his debut as coach of Valencia - said: "I could hardly have had a better start.

"Real have a lot of individual quality, and it was not easy to stop them."

Sunday's other early game was a heart-stopping affair, with Betis winning 5-3 at troubled Athletic Bilbao.

Jorge Molina scored twice for Betis. Ruben Castro, Benat and Alejandro Pozuelo were their other scorers. In an astonishing second half, Bilbao came back from 3-0 down to make it 3-3 - only to concede two more goals at the end.

Neither Fernando Llorente or Javi Martinez - the two Spanish internationals who are poised to leave the club - were fielded by Bilbao.

Sunday's late game was a 1-1 draw between Europa League sides Levante and Atletico Madrid.

Moroccan forward Habil El Zhar gave Levante an early lead, only for Turkish winger Arda Turan to quickly equalize for Atletico.

- Sapa / DPA


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